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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 McConnellGOP increasingly balks at calling Jan. 6 an insurrection Black lawmakers warn against complacency after Juneteenth victory Graham quips key to working with Trump: We both 'like him' 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 LeeSenate confirms Biden pick for No. 2 role at Interior Big Tech critic Lina Khan named chair of the FTC GOP senators press Justice Department to compare protest arrests to Capitol riot MORE (R-Utah), Thom TillisThomas (Thom) Roland TillisCentrists gain foothold in infrastructure talks; cyber attacks at center of Biden-Putin meeting Centrists gain leverage over progressives in Senate infrastructure battle Lawmakers rally around cyber legislation following string of attacks MORE (R-N.C.) and Ron JohnsonRonald (Ron) Harold JohnsonCentrists gain foothold in infrastructure talks; cyber attacks at center of Biden-Putin meeting GOP increasingly balks at calling Jan. 6 an insurrection 14 Republicans vote against making Juneteenth a federal holiday 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 TrumpHead of firms that pushed 'Italygate' theory falsely claimed VA mansion was her home: report Centrists gain foothold in infrastructure talks; cyber attacks at center of Biden-Putin meeting VA moving to cover gender affirmation surgery through department health care 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 SasseGOP senators applaud Biden for global vaccine donation plans Pence: Trump and I may never 'see eye to eye' on events of Jan. 6 White House: Biden will not appoint presidential Jan. 6 commission 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 PaulSenate confirms Biden pick for No. 2 role at Interior Rand Paul does not support a national minimum wage increase — and it's important to understand why Fauci to Chelsea Clinton: The 'phenomenal amount of hostility' I face is 'astounding' MORE (R-Ky.) and Bill CassidyBill CassidyCentrists gain foothold in infrastructure talks; cyber attacks at center of Biden-Putin meeting Centrists gain leverage over progressives in Senate infrastructure battle Overnight Health Care: Takeaways on the Supreme Court's Obamacare decision | COVID-19 cost 5.5 million years of American life | Biden administration investing billions in antiviral pills for COVID-19 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 GinsburgOcasio-Cortez says Breyer should retire from Supreme Court Progressives want to tighten screws beyond Manchin and Sinema Juan Williams: Time for Justice Breyer to go 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 GrahamCentrists gain foothold in infrastructure talks; cyber attacks at center of Biden-Putin meeting Graham quips key to working with Trump: We both 'like him' Centrists gain leverage over progressives in Senate infrastructure battle 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 SchumerCentrists gain foothold in infrastructure talks; cyber attacks at center of Biden-Putin meeting Five takeaways on the Supreme Court's Obamacare decision Senate confirms Chris Inglis as first White House cyber czar 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 PelosiGOP increasingly balks at calling Jan. 6 an insurrection Overnight Energy: Lake Mead's decline points to scary water future in West | White House leads opposition to raising gas tax | Biden taps ex-New Mexico lawmaker for USDA post Trump against boycotting Beijing Olympics in 2022 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.