McConnell moves to delay Senate return after 3 lawmakers test positive for COVID-19
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (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.
The Senate was in session last week and had been scheduled to return this coming Monday.
The announcement comes after Sens. Mike Lee (R-Utah), Thom Tillis (R-N.C.) and Ron Johnson (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 Trump’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 Sasse (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.
Sens. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) and Bill Cassidy (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 Ginsburg, 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 Graham (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.
Graham confirmed in a separate statement that the hearings will not be delayed.
Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer (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 Pelosi (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.