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GOP vows quick confirmation of Trump's Supreme Court pick amid coronavirus turmoil

GOP vows quick confirmation of Trump's Supreme Court pick amid coronavirus turmoil
© Greg Nash

Republicans are vowing a quick confirmation for President TrumpDonald TrumpDonald Trump Jr. calls Bruce Springsteen's dropped charges 'liberal privilege' Schiff sees challenges for intel committee, community in Trump's shadow McConnell says he'd back Trump as 2024 GOP nominee MORE's Supreme Court nominee as the party goes all-in on the judiciary in the final weeks before the November election. 

The GOP decision to try to confirm Judge Amy Coney BarrettAmy Coney BarrettThe Jan. 6 case for ending the Senate filibuster Laurence Tribe: Justice Thomas is out of order on 2020 election McConnell backs Garland for attorney general MORE only days before Nov. 3 — a process that will start when her Judiciary Committee hearings kick off on Monday — comes in the face of a coronavirus outbreak in the Senate and protests from Democrats that the plan endangers public health. 

Three GOP senators have tested positive for the coronavirus, and an additional three are in quarantine.

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The cases have raised new doubts about the party’s ambitious confirmation timeline, which is already controversial given its proximity to the presidential election.

Top Republicans are brushing aside calls to reevaluate.

“That's the plan and there's nothing I can see that would keep that from happening,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellMinimum wage setback revives progressive calls to nix Senate filibuster Schiff sees challenges for intel committee, community in Trump's shadow McConnell says he'd back Trump as 2024 GOP nominee MORE (R-Ky.) said during an interview on Fox News. 

Sen. Roy BluntRoy Dean BluntPassage of the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act is the first step to heal our democracy Microsoft, FireEye push for breach reporting rules after SolarWinds hack Biden's unity effort falters MORE (Mo.), a member of GOP leadership and close ally of McConnell, added that if “he was betting” he would expect Barrett to be confirmed during the final week of October. 

“I think we’ll see it happen this month,” he said. 

Republicans hold a 53-47 seat majority in the Senate. Barrett will only need a simple majority — 50 “yes” votes and Vice President Pence to break a tie if all 100 senators are present — to be confirmed after Republicans nixed the 60-vote filibuster for Supreme Court nominations in 2017.

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The path for Barrett could be even narrower. Two GOP senators — Susan CollinsSusan Margaret CollinsHouse passes sweeping protections for LGBTQ people Grassley to vote against Tanden nomination Klain on Manchin's objection to Neera Tanden: He 'doesn't answer to us at the White House' MORE (Maine) and Lisa MurkowskiLisa Ann MurkowskiWashington Post denounces abuse of reporter Grassley to vote against Tanden nomination Mean tweets may take down Biden nominee MORE (Alaska) — have said they don’t believe a nominee should get a vote before the Nov. 3 election.

That would leave Barrett with at least 51 “yes” votes in what would be one of the smallest margins for a Supreme Court pick, if they both vote no. Brett KavanaughBrett Michael KavanaughThe Jan. 6 case for ending the Senate filibuster Laurence Tribe: Justice Thomas is out of order on 2020 election LIVE COVERAGE: Senate set to consider Garland for AG MORE, Trump’s second nominee, was confirmed 50-48, which was the slimmest margin since 1881. 

Sen. Ted CruzRafael (Ted) Edward CruzJohn Boehner tells Cruz to 'go f--- yourself' in unscripted audiobook asides: report Huawei backs supply chain security standards in wake of SolarWinds breach The Memo: Biden faces first major setback as Tanden teeters MORE (R-Texas), a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, is confident no other Republicans senators will oppose Barrett.

“As I see it, we have a solid 51 votes right now. And from the conversations in the conference, I don't see that changing,” Cruz said during a Washington Post Live event, adding that he was “very confident” Barrett will be confirmed before the election. 

Democrats would need a total of four GOP senators to vote against Barrett — a potentially herculean task given the party’s devotion to confirming judicial picks and the significant political blowback a GOP senator would get for defying Trump, McConnell and conservatives.

Democrats acknowledge that, absent a surprise or a broader outbreak of the coronavirus, the GOP is likely to meet its goal. But they are weighing the use of any procedural lever they can to slow the nomination. And Democrats are calling for Judiciary Committee Chairman Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamJohn Boehner tells Cruz to 'go f--- yourself' in unscripted audiobook asides: report Parliamentarian nixes minimum wage hike in coronavirus bill McConnell says he'd back Trump as 2024 GOP nominee MORE (R-S.C.) to require COVID-19 testing of all senators.

The Senate's outbreak of the coronavirus has hit the Judiciary Committee particularly hard. Two Republican senators, Mike LeeMichael (Mike) Shumway LeeOVERNIGHT ENERGY: Key vote for Haaland's confirmation | Update on oil and gas leasing | SEC update on climate-related risk disclosure requirements Haaland on drilling lease moratorium: 'It's not going to be a permanent thing' Overnight 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 MORE (Utah) and 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 (N.C.) have tested positive and another two, Cruz and Ben SasseBen SasseOVERNIGHT ENERGY: Key vote for Haaland's confirmation | Update on oil and gas leasing | SEC update on climate-related risk disclosure requirements Josh Hawley is a conservative without a clue Republican Party going off the rails? MORE (Neb.), are in quarantine. 

Democrats aren’t expected to help Republicans make quorum at either the Oct. 15 meeting, where Barrett’s nomination would be on the agenda for the first time, or the Oct. 22 meeting, where it’s expected to get a vote. 

Things could reach a boiling point on Oct. 22. Under committee rules a majority of the panel will need to be present to send Barrett’s nomination onto the full Senate, teeing up a final floor vote for the final week of October. With a total of 22 members on the committee, that would mean Graham would need all 12 GOP senators back in Washington. 

Underscoring the seriousness Republicans are placing on the court fight, Sen. Ron JohnsonRonald (Ron) Harold JohnsonCruz hires Trump campaign press aide as communications director Pelosi: Dems want commission focused on Capitol mob attack Pelosi jokes about Sen. 'Don' Johnson MORE (Wis.), the third GOP senator to be infected over the past week, pledged that he would go in a “moon suit” if his vote was needed to confirm Barrett and lock in a 6-3 conservative majority. 

Trump has also urged Republicans to focus on Barrett’s nomination, after pulling the plug on coronavirus relief negotiations. 

Republicans view the Supreme Court battle as beneficial to most of their Senate candidates and a top priority for their base, even as economists warn that a lack of additional coronavirus aid could have devastating consequences that carries political risks for the president and Congress in the final days of the election.

“I have asked Mitch McConnell not to delay, but to instead focus full time on approving my outstanding nominee to the United States Supreme Court, Amy Coney Barrett. Our Economy is doing very well. The Stock Market is at record levels, JOBS and unemployment also coming back in record numbers. We are leading the World in Economic Recovery, and THE BEST IS YET TO COME!” Trump tweeted. 

The decision by Trump to end the talks — which he subsequently softened by expressing interest in smaller piecemeal bills — sparked pushback from GOP senators who are on the ballot in tough reelection fights. 

Graham asked Trump to consider a $1.5 trillion bipartisan House bill, while Collins called ending the negotiations a “huge mistake.” Both are in the toughest battles of their political lives.

McConnell, asked if Trump’s coronavirus strategy would hurt his incumbents, argued that they should be putting the Supreme Court, not the pandemic, at the forefront of the final weeks of their campaigns. 

“What’s really going to help the Senate races I think is putting the Supreme Court justice front and center,” he said. “Every single challenger to every one of my incumbents is opposed to this nominee, every one of them, so we’ll let the American people in each of these states that are hotly contested decide how important the United States Supreme Court is in casting their vote.”