Hours after President Donald Trump tested positive for the coronavirus and shortly before Sen. Mike Lee announced his Covid-19 diagnosis, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell made clear Friday that a potentially large outbreak in the White House and on Capitol Hill will not stop him from plowing ahead with his attempt to get right-wing Judge Amy Coney Barrett confirmed to the Supreme Court.
"Just finished a great phone call with POTUS," tweeted the Kentucky Republican. "He's in good spirits and we talked business—especially how impressed senators are with the qualifications of Judge Barrett. Full steam ahead with the fair, thorough, timely process that the nominee, the court, and the country deserve."
"McConnell declaring 'full steam ahead' without knowing the scope of the risk to those involved, including the nominee herself, is not just reckless and heartless, it has a slight undertone of panic."
—Adam Jentleson, Democracy Forward
Adam Jentleson, public affairs director at Democracy Forward and a former Senate staffer, said McConnell's comments show he is "literally willing to put lives at risk to fill RBG's seat" ahead of the November election, which is just a month away.
"McConnell declaring 'full steam ahead' without knowing the scope of the risk to those involved, including the nominee herself, is not just reckless and heartless, it has a slight undertone of panic," Jentleson added. "He is rushing to assert that everything is fine without knowing whether it is."
Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), the chairman of the Judiciary Committee, echoed McConnell in a CNN interview Friday morning after speaking to the president, who is reportedly experiencing "mild" coronavirus symptoms.
"First thing he asked me about was the hearing," Graham said. "He asked me about the hearings, I said, 'We're on track, we're in a good spot. She's going to get confirmed.' He was in a good mood, very focused on getting Amy Barrett through the Senate."
Amy Coney Barrett met with the president recently. The photo released showed that they were not wearing masks. Those in contact with people who tested positive for coronavirus are meant to quarantine for 14 days. Scheduling a hearing for 10 days from now is reckless and stupid. https://t.co/ntvx1uAWCg
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After Graham reaffirmed his commitment to beginning Barrett's Judiciary Committee hearings on October 12, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) and Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.)—the top Democrat on the Judiciary Committee—said in a statement that Senate Republicans' rush to start the confirmation process in just ten days "when we do not know the full extent of potential exposure stemming from the president's infection" risks turning an "already illegitimate process" into "a dangerous one."
On Friday, as Common Dreams reported, Barrett tested negative for the coronavirus three days after meeting with Lee—a member of the Judiciary Committee—at the U.S. Capitol. The two met indoors and neither wore face coverings nor adhered to social distancing guidelines.
"The unfortunate news about the infection of our colleague Senator Mike Lee makes even more clear that health and safety must guide the schedule for all Senate activities, including hearings," Schumer and Feinstein said. "There is bipartisan agreement that a virtual confirmation hearing for a lifetime appointment to the federal bench is not an acceptable substitute."
"It's critical that Chairman Graham put the health of senators, the nominee, and staff first—and ensure a full and fair hearing that is not rushed, not truncated, and not virtual," added the Democratic senators, who are facing pressure from progressive advocacy groups to do everything in their power to slow or stop Barrett's confirmation, which could imperil reproductive rights and healthcare coverage for millions.