By Marisa Schultz | Fox News
Senate Democrats blamed the coronavirus outbreak at the White House and Senate in their latest effort to delay the confirmation hearing for Supreme Court nominee Amy Coney Barrett, saying “health and safety” must come first.
Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., and Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., again called on Judiciary Committee Chairman Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., to cancel the planned Oct. 12 hearing for Barrett, citing the coronavirus infections of President Trump and Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah.
“It is premature for Chairman Graham to commit to a hearing schedule when we do not know the full extent of potential exposure stemming from the president’s infection and before the White House puts in place a contact tracing plan to prevent further spread of the disease,” Feinstein and Schumer said in a statement Friday.
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Graham and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell both said Friday morning they plan to continue full speed ahead with the ambitious timeline that would set up a vote in the full Senate before the Nov. 3 general election.
A Republican aide slammed the Democrats’ latest effort to slow down the process as “a nakedly partisan ploy.”
“Everyone is concerned about health right now and that comes first, but the business of the Senate and this Supreme Court confirmation process doesn’t stop,” the aide told Fox News. “That’s why we’ve been at work.”
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y, joined by, from left, Sen. Ben Cardin, D-Md., the ranking member on the Foreign Relations Committee, Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., the ranking member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, and Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va., vice-chair of the Intelligence Committee, on Wednesday, Feb. 15, 2017, on Capitol Hill in Washington. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite) (The Associated Press)
Trump, first lady Melania Trump and Lee all announced Friday they had contracted the virus, setting off a flurry of more tests by lawmakers and aides that have come in contact with them in recent days.
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Barrett, who spent three days at the Capitol this week meeting with more than 30 senators, tested negative for coronavirus on Friday. The Washington Post reported that Barrett had contracted COVID-19 earlier this summer and has recovered, which could mean she has some immunity to the virus now.
Schumer and Feinstein, the top Democrat on the Judiciary Committee, believe the confirmation of Barrett is “illegitimate” and have previously called for it to be delayed until after the presidential inauguration. They want Republicans to keep the same election year standard they set in 2016 when the GOP refused to take up President Obama’s nomination of Merrick Garland until after the presidential election.
But Democrats opened a new front for objections Friday with the infection of Lee, who sits on the Judiciary Committee, and the suggestion by McConnell that the Barrett confirmation hearing could be conducted remotely. They argued that a hearing of this magnitude must be conducted in person and Republicans should wait until that can happen safely.
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“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. “In addition, there is bipartisan agreement that a virtual confirmation hearing for a lifetime appointment to the federal bench is not an acceptable substitute.”
Judge Amy Coney Barrett, President Donald Trump’s nominee to the Supreme Court, meets with Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, at the Capitol, Tuesday, Sept. 29, 2020 in Washington. (Al Drago/Pool via AP)
They continued: “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. Otherwise, this already illegitimate process will become a dangerous one.”
McConnell pointed out that Senate has already been conducting hearings remotely and said the coronavirus outbreak at the White House underscores the need to take precautions at the Barrett hearing.
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“They’ve been careful already,” McConnell told the “Hugh Hewitt Show” Friday. “Members, some of them, have done their interviews in previous hearings remotely. This sort of underscores, I think, the need to do that. And I think every precaution needs to be taken because we don’t anticipate any Democratic support at all, either in committee or in the full Senate, and therefore everybody needs to be in an all-hands-on-deck mindset.”
Schumer also called for a contact tracing regimen and robust testing on Capitol Hill, but House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Mitch McConnell both rejected the rapid testing machines earlier in the pandemic.