Senate leaves town for two weeks amid coronavirus outbreak

Bonnie Cash

The Senate on Monday left town until Oct. 19 after President Trump and three GOP senators tested positive for the coronavirus.

The decision by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) to adjourn the Senate, absent brief pro forma sessions, is the first time the GOP leader has decided to keep the chamber out of town due to the virus since they reconvened in early May after a weeks-long break.

Even though the Senate will be out of town until Oct. 19, the Senate Judiciary Committee is still expected to start a days-long hearing for Judge Amy Coney Barrett’s Supreme Court nomination on Oct. 12.

“We are full steam ahead with a fair through and timely confirmation process,” McConnell said from the Senate floor on Monday.

Judiciary Committee Chairman Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) on Monday officially scheduled the Oct. 12 hearing start for Barrett’s confirmation.

But McConnell is eager to keep the Senate out of town, reducing the risk that additional senators could test positive for the coronavirus as he’s turning his attention to trying to confirm President Trump’s Supreme Court nominee later this month.

Three GOP senators — Thom Tillis (R-N.C.), Mike Lee (R-Utah) and Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) — have announced since Friday that they have tested positive for the coronavirus. Another three GOP senators — Ben Sasse (Neb.), James Lankford (Okla.) and Ted Cruz (Texas) — have tested negative but are self-isolating after being around their COVID-19 positive colleagues, who each attended caucus lunches and committee hearings last week.

Their absence caps McConnell’s normal 53-seat majority at 47 seats for at least this week. It also deprives him of the 51 votes needed for a quorum so that the Senate can conduct business.

“Our biggest enemy obviously is … the coronavirus, keeping everybody healthy and well and in place to do our job,” McConnell told radio host Hugh Hewitt late last week about the effort to confirm Judge Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court before the Nov. 3 election.

“The members have some of them done their interviews in previous hearings remotely. This sort of underscores the need to do that. I think every precaution needs to be taken because we don’t anticipate any Democratic support at all … and therefore everybody needs to be in an all hands on deck mindset,” he added.

Democrats have called to delay the hearings, arguing that by moving forward Republicans are putting their judicial ambitions above the health and safety of senators as well as the staff and reporters who interact with them on a daily basis.

Democrats also argued McConnell’s move to adjourn the Senate, even though they are sticking to their Supreme Court timeline, was hypocritical.

But they did not block him from adjourning on Monday.

Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.), the only Democratic senator to speak on the floor on Monday, asked McConnell to extend the Senate break through Election Day.

But McConnell shot down that request, meaning the Senate will come back into session on October 19.

Tags Barrett confirmation Ben Sasse Coronavirus Donald Trump James Lankford Lindsey Graham Mike Lee Mitch McConnell Ron Johnson Senate Supreme Court Ted Cruz Thom Tillis Tim Kaine

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