Coronavirus — and the 215,000 American lives it has claimed — cast a visible shadow over the confirmation hearing of Judge Amy Coney Barrett to be seated on the Supreme Court on Columbus Day, just 22 days before the Presidential election.
Republican Senator Mike Lee, of Utah, appeared in person, despite his positive coronavirus test 10 days before. Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Lindsey Graham, who gaveled in the proceedings, has refused to take a test.
And the hearing room was strikingly more sparse than in past confirmation hearings, as Republicans insisted they were following the constitution and precedent in moving quickly to fill the late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s seat and Democrats called hypocrisy and warned that Barrett’s confirmation could lead to the end of the Affordable Care Act’s health care protections.
Here’s what you need to know:
Barrett Appeared With Her Family & Said in Her Opening Statement That ‘Americans of All Backgrounds Deserve an Independent Supreme Court’
Judge Barrett appeared with her husband, Jesse, and her seven children at Monday’s hearing, wearing a black protective mask. She was silent throughout the opening hour, as Graham and Senators Chuck Grassley, Diane Feinstein, and Patrick Leahy made opening statements.
In her opening statement, released Sunday, Barrett spoke of her background and her approach to examining cases. “I believe Americans of all backgrounds deserve an independent Supreme Court that interprets our Constitution and laws as they are written. And I believe I can serve my country by playing that role,” she said.
You can read her entire statement here.
Coronavirus Precautions Included Socially Distanced Seating & Masks All Around & Mike Lee Appeared, Despite Testing Positive 10 Days Before
It was hard not to see the specter of coronavirus at the hearing, with even pool photographers spread out sparsely on the floor, and everyone in the audience, as well as senators, masked and seated several feet apart.
Republican Senators Mike Lee and Thom Tillis both tested positive for coronavirus on October 2, Politico reported. Both participated in the Rose Garden ceremony announcing Barrett’s nomination to the court, at which most attendees wore no masks and were not socially distanced.
"I’ve gotten the sign-off from the Office of the Attending Physician, I’ve gone through the appropriate number of days… and I’m no longer contagious."
— Julie Tsirkin (@JulieNBCNews) October 12, 2020
Lee said that he had the “sign-off” from the Senate’s Office of the Attending Physician and that he was no longer contagious, NBC’s Julie Tsirkin reported. Tillis called in to the confirmation hearing remotely.
The event has since been suggested as a “super spreader” event, with many high-level Republican positive tests linked to it. Many attendees hugged and kissed at the event, which was also partially held indoors.
Lee wore a mask, as all participants in Monday’s hearing were required to do, but often pulled it down and fiddled with it, sometimes also exposing his face as he leaned in to speak with other senators. And, when he gave his opening statement, he did so mask-free, many noticed on Twitter.
Mike Lee was diagnosed with COVID just 10 days ago and is now speaking at the hearing without a mask. pic.twitter.com/PHVXAhtHLB
— Miranda Yaver (@mirandayaver) October 12, 2020
Chairman Graham also has refused to take a COVID-19 test, notably just before a debate with his South Carolina Senate challenger, Jaime Harrison, Business Insider reported.
Graham Acknowledged the Election-Year Confirmation & Coronavirus In His Opening Statement & Said He Hopes Barrett Is Not Treated Like Justices Brett Kavanaugh & Clarence Thomas Were
Lindsey Graham: "This is an election year. We're confirming a judge in an election year after the voting has occurred." Reversing himself from previous years where he said he wouldn't do this. He says it may be unprecedented in some ways but it's not unconstitutional. pic.twitter.com/hr6ZNSKx3y
— Sahil Kapur (@sahilkapur) October 12, 2020
Graham, opening the hearing, acknowledged the two elephants in the room: the pandemic and the fact that Republicans are trying to confirm a Supreme Court justice during an election in which voting has already begun.
“I doubt there’s any room in the country that’s been given more attention and detail to make sure it’s Centers for Disease Control and Prevention compliant,” Graham said, noting that the capitol architect and CDC had cleared the room as safe for the hearing.
“We have a country that needs to move forward, safely,” he added.
Graham also evoked the confirmation hearings for Justices Brett Kavanaugh and Clarence Thomas. Thomas and Kavanaugh both faced allegations of sexual misconduct and, in Kavanaugh’s place, sexual assault. Graham said he hoped Barrett “doesn’t get [their] treatment.”
“She doesn’t deserve it, and I think the American people want something better than those episodes,” he said. “I would just ask one thing of the committee: To the extent possible, let’s make it respectful, let’s make it challenging. Let’s remember, the world is watching.”
Feinstein & Leahy Showed Photos of Constituents Afraid Barrett Could Spell the End of Their Affordable Care Act Health Care
Sen. Feinstein: “Voting is underway in 40 states. Senate Republicans are pressing forward full speed ahead…Simply put, I believe we should not be moving forward on this nomination, not until the election has ended and the next president has taken office.” https://t.co/287bRvyVxi pic.twitter.com/vsBd4REc3N
— ABC News (@ABC) October 12, 2020
Ranking minority member Dianne Feinstein and Senator Patrick Leahy both zeroed in on the Affordable Care Act, which Republicans have sought to nullify for almost 10 years and President Trump has vowed to use as a litmus test for his Supreme Court nominees.
The Supreme Court is to hear arguments on the law’s constitutionality on November 10, NPR reported.
Feinstein and Leahy both showed photographs of their constituents and shared their personal stories of expensive, life-saving medications and pre-existing conditions that they fear would make them ineligible for health care should the ACA be overturned.
“This could mean, if Barrett is confirmed, Americans could lose the coverage the ACA provides for,” Feinstein said. “More than 16.8 Californians … we are just one state, but I think you should know how we feel.”
She added that the confirmation process should not move forward until the next president is seated, calling on Republicans to “honor their word, their promise.”
Leahy: "We should not be holding this hearing when it's plainly unsafe to do so. Two members of this committee [are] just now emerging from quarantine after testing positive for Covid, and when other members have declined to get tested." pic.twitter.com/RwyWHKvOsB
— Aaron Rupar (@atrupar) October 12, 2020
Leahy, participating virtually in the hearing, also said the proceedings themselves were “blatantly unsafe,” as well as violating Republicans’ prior comments on not holding a confirmation during an election.
“Every senator on this committee knows in their heart that this is a total break with precedent, and that breaking their commitments is wrong,” he said.
And, on the ACA challenge:
“The results will be nothing short of catastrophic for millions of Americans who count on its coverage,” he said. “Justice Ginsburg would have dissented, and I will too.”