In a history-making moment, with some members attending virtually and others in person, the Senate Judiciary Committee will take up the Supreme Court nomination of Amy Coney Barrett this morning, just 22 days before the country votes in the 2020 presidential election.
It will be a hearing dominated, in many ways, by the coronavirus pandemic that is now in its eighth month. Two Republican senators, Mike Lee of Utah and Thom Tillis of North Carolina, may be unable to attend in person because they have tested positive for COVID-19, and several Democrats, including Sen. Kamala Harris, the running mate of Joe Biden, are indicating that they will participate remotely because of their concerns over the virus that has so far killed more than 210,000 Americans.
“Due to Judiciary Committee Republicans’ refusal to take common sense steps to protect members, aides, Capitol complex workers, and members of the media, Senator Harris plans to participate in this week’s hearings remotely from her Senate office in the Hart building,” a spokesperson for Harris said in a statement issued on Sunday.
Earlier, Harris had been one of several Democratic senators urging that the hearings be delayed because of the pandemic, saying that a postponement was necessary “to ensure that we don’t risk the health and safety of fellow Senators, Senate staff, other Senate employees, as well as Judge Barrett and her family.” The Democrats added, “We need not proceed in such a reckless and blind fashion.”
The committee is led by South Carolina Sen. Lindsey, who, in a controversial move, refused to take a coronavirus test before his debate this weekend against his Democratic challenger Jaime Harrison, causing the debate to be cancelled and replaced by separate interviews with the two candidates. There has been widespread speculation that Graham refused to take the test because, if it came back positive, it could delay the Judiciary hearings, and imperil his plans to confirm Barrett before Nov. 3.
Graham has said he intends to bring the confirmation of Barrett to the Senate floor by Oct. 22.
Monday’s session, which will begin at 9 a.m., will kick off with opening statements by Graham and Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-California), the ranking member of the committee. Then each of the other 20 senators on the panel will be given 10 minutes for a statement. (Besides Tillis and Graham, two other Republican senators—John Cornyn of Texas and Joni Ernst—are currently involved in tough re-election battles, which could make an interesting subplot to the hearings.) The committee members will be followed by Sen. Todd Young (R-Indiana), and Sen. Michael Braun (R-Indiana), along with Patricia O’Hara, a former dean of Notre Dame Law School, which Barrett both graduated from and later taught at. Each will give a five-minute speech about Barrett, testifying to her fitness for the nation’s highest court.