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McConnell moves to delay Senate return after 3 lawmakers test positive for COVID-19

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellMcConnell backs Garland for attorney general Trump to attend private RNC donor retreat The Patriot Party already exists — it's the Democrats MORE (R-Ky.) will move to delay the Senate’s return for two weeks after three lawmakers tested positive for COVID-19. 

McConnell said the Senate will not return until Oct. 19 and will only meet in pro forma sessions for the next two weeks, allowing a smaller number of lawmakers to be on Capitol Hill. Previously-scheduled floor activity will take place after Oct. 19. 

McConnell said in a statement he “[intends] to obtain a consent agreement” to have the chamber go on hiatus until Oct. 19, meaning Democrats can object to the move.

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The Senate was in session last week and had been scheduled to return this coming Monday. 

The announcement comes after Sens. Mike LeeMichael (Mike) Shumway LeeOvernight Health Care: US surpasses half a million COVID deaths | House panel advances Biden's .9T COVID-19 aid bill | Johnson & Johnson ready to provide doses for 20M Americans by end of March 11 GOP senators slam Biden pick for health secretary: 'No meaningful experience' Lee after Romney's impeachment vote: There's enough room in GOP 'for both of us' MORE (R-Utah), Thom TillisThomas (Thom) Roland TillisMcConnell backs Garland for attorney general GOP senators demand probe into Cuomo's handling of nursing home deaths CNN anchor confronts GOP chairman over senator's vote to convict Trump MORE (R-N.C.) and Ron JohnsonRonald (Ron) Harold JohnsonTop cops deflect blame over Capitol attack NRSC chair Scott calls for party unity: 'The Republican Civil War is now cancelled' GOP senator raises uncorroborated claims about 'provocateurs,' 'fake Trump supporters' at Capitol riot hearing MORE (R-Wis.) all announced they have tested positive for the coronavirus. Lee and Tillis are members of the Senate Judiciary Committee and were at the White House last Saturday for President TrumpDonald TrumpRomney: 'Pretty sure' Trump would win 2024 GOP nomination if he ran for president Pence huddles with senior members of Republican Study Committee Trump says 'no doubt' Tiger Woods will be back after accident MORE’s announcement that he was picking Judge Amy Coney Barrett as his Supreme Court nominee. 

Trump has also tested positive for COVID-19 and is now at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, a decision the White House said was taken “out of an abundance of caution.”

Sen. Ben SasseBen SasseJosh Hawley is a conservative without a clue Republican Party going off the rails? Polarization may win in media or politics, but our country loses MORE (R-Neb.), another member of the Judiciary Committee, was also at the White House last week. Though he tested negative, he still plans to work remotely from Nebraska until Oct. 12 as he receives further testing.

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Sens. Rand PaulRandal (Rand) Howard PaulSanders votes against Biden USDA nominee Vilsack Senate confirms Vilsack as Agriculture secretary Hillicon Valley: Biden to take 'executive action' to address SolarWinds breach | Facebook and Google respond to Australian proposed law | DOJ charges North Korean hackers with stealing .3 billion in cryptocurrency MORE (R-Ky.) and Bill CassidyBill CassidyKoch-backed group launches ads urging lawmakers to reject COVID-19 relief bill Biden health nominee faces first Senate test Is the 'civil war' in the Republican Party really over? MORE (R-La.) were the only two senators to previously test positive for the virus prior to this week, receiving their diagnoses in March and August, respectively.

The absence of the four Republican lawmakers cuts down McConnell’s normal 53-47 majority to just 49 senators.

The delay and diagnoses come as the Senate GOP looks to swiftly confirm Barrett to the Supreme Court to fill the vacancy left by the death of Justice Ruth Bader GinsburgRuth Bader GinsburgMcConnell backs Garland for attorney general A powerful tool to take on the Supreme Court — if Democrats use it right Fauci says he was nervous about catching COVID-19 in Trump White House MORE, but McConnell said the move will not impact the start of her confirmation hearings, which are set to begin on Oct. 12.

“The important work of the Senate’s committees can and will continue as each committee sees fit. The Senate Judiciary Committee will convene on October 12th as Chairman Graham has scheduled to begin confirmation hearings for Judge Amy Coney Barrett’s nomination to the Supreme Court. The Senate’s floor schedule will not interrupt the thorough, fair, and historically supported confirmation process previously laid out by Chairman Graham,” he said, referring to Sen. Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamProgressive support builds for expanding lower courts McConnell backs Garland for attorney general Senate GOP campaign chief talks strategy with Trump MORE (R-S.C.), the Judiciary panel’s chairman. 

“Since May, the Judiciary Committee has operated flawlessly through a hybrid method that has seen some Senators appear physically at its hearings while other members have participated virtually. The Committee has utilized this format successfully for many months while protecting the health and safety of all involved. Certainly all Republican members of the committee will participate in these important hearings," McConnell continued.

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Graham confirmed in a separate statement that the hearings will not be delayed.

Senate Minority Leader Charles SchumerChuck SchumerCongress holds candlelight vigil for American lives lost to COVID-19 The Hill's 12:30 Report - Presented by Facebook - Lawmakers investigate Jan. 6 security failures Senate confirms Thomas-Greenfield as UN ambassador MORE (D-N.Y.) said it's "too dangerous for committee hearings to continue," and that the GOP's decision to push ahead with Barrett's confirmation is "reckless and dangerous."

“The decision to recess the Senate for two weeks after at least three Republican Senators have tested positive for COVID-19 makes clear that the Senate cannot proceed with business as usual as the virus continues to run rampant. If it’s too dangerous to have the Senate in session, it is also too dangerous for committee hearings to continue," he said in a statement Saturday.

"Leader McConnell and Chairman Graham’s monomaniacal drive to confirm Judge Barrett at all costs needlessly threatens the health and safety of Senators, staff, and all those who work in the Capitol complex," he continued. "Their decision to move ‘full steam ahead’ with a Supreme Court nominee who could take away the healthcare of 20 million Americans a month before Election Day is turning an illegitimate process into a reckless and dangerous one.”

The rapid spread of the virus in Washington has spurred renewed conversations about an offer from the White House to provide rapid testing on Capitol Hill, a proposition McConnell and Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiFive big takeaways on the Capitol security hearings Curator estimates Capitol art damage from mob totals K Democrats want businesses to help get LGBT bill across finish line MORE (D-Calif.) had previously rebuffed. 

“This episode demonstrates that the Senate needs a testing and contact tracing program for Senators, staff, and all who work in the Capitol complex. We simply cannot allow the administration's cavalier attitude to adversely affect this branch of government,” Schumer said in a statement this week.

--Updated: 1:55 p.m.