Confirmation hearings for Supreme Court nominee Amy Coney Barrett begin Monday as the US is in the grips of the coronavirus pandemic.
Republicans who control the Senate are moving at a breakneck pace to seat Barrett before the 3 November election, in time to hear a high-profile challenge to the Affordable Care Act and any election-related challenges that may follow voting.
Democrats are trying in vain to delay the fast-track confirmation, raising fresh concerns about the safety of meeting as two GOP senators on the panel tested positive for Covid-19.
The committee released a letter from the Architect of the Capitol on Sunday that says the hearing room has been set up in consultation with the Office of Attending Physician with appropriate distance between seats and air ventilation systems that meet or exceed industry standards.
Still, California Sen. Kamala Harris, the Democratic vice presidential nominee who is also a committee member, plans to participate remotely from her Senate office due to coronavirus concerns, her spokesman said Sunday.
Two members who have tested positive for the virus, Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah and Sen. Thom Tillis, R-N.C., have not said if they will attend in person. Lee’s spokesman said the senator is symptom-free but would be making a decision on whether to attend Monday morning, per his doctor’s orders. A spokesman for Tillis did not respond to multiple requests for comment.
Harris and others said the hearings should not move forward without plans to test those attending for Covid. One Republican, Sen. Joni Ernst of Iowa, said “it would be smart to do that,” according to the Des Moines Register. Aside from media, few, if any, members of the public will be allowed to attend.
Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer of New York told the AP that the committee’s chairman, Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., has “an obligation to be tested” for Covid-19 beforehand because he has been exposed to those with the disease.
Graham told Fox News Channel’s “Sunday Morning Futures” that he took a test last week and is “negative.” He said, “We’re going to work safely.”