McConnell Delays Senate’s Return as a Third Senator Falls Ill

WASHINGTON — Senator Mitch McConnell, the majority leader, said on Saturday that the Senate would not meet as planned next week after three senators tested positive for the coronavirus, even as he pledged to press ahead to confirm Judge Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court.

Mr. McConnell’s decision to convene the full Senate on Oct. 19 comes as three members of the Republican conference — Senators Mike Lee of Utah, Thom Tillis of North Carolina and Ron Johnson of Wisconsin — have tested positive for the coronavirus in the past 24 hours. Others, like Senator James Lankford of Oklahoma, have tested negative but have gone into quarantine.

But despite the increase in confirmed coronavirus cases in the Senate, where there is no mandatory or universal testing program on the Capitol grounds, Republican leaders signaled they had no intention of slowing their ambitious time frame for confirming Judge Barrett to the Supreme Court before Election Day.

“The Senate’s floor schedule will not interrupt the thorough, fair and historically supported confirmation process previously laid out,” Mr. McConnell, Republican of Kentucky, said in a statement.

A spokesman for the Senate Judiciary Committee said on Saturday that the panel would begin four days of confirmation hearings on Oct. 12 as planned.

Senator Chuck Schumer of New York, the Democratic leader, condemned Mr. McConnell’s decision to press ahead with the proceedings, calling the effort “monomaniacal.”

“The decision to recess the Senate for two weeks after at least three Republican senators have tested positive for Covid-19 makes clear that the Senate cannot proceed with business as usual as the virus continues to run rampant,” Mr. Schumer said in a statement. “If it’s too dangerous to have the Senate in session, it is also too dangerous for committee hearings to continue.”

The vulnerability of lawmakers to the virus was highlighted in recent days as three Republican senators tested positive and several more scrambled to get a diagnosis and went into quarantine after interacting with their colleagues and attending the announcement of Judge Barrett’s nomination at the White House. Several attendees of that event, including President Trump and the first lady, have since tested positive.

Two of the lawmakers diagnosed with the virus, Mr. Lee and Mr. Tillis, sit on the Judiciary Committee but said they would isolate for 10 days, which would enable them to attend the hearings.

In an interview on Friday, Mr. McConnell suggested that the virus’s spread through Republican circles could mean that more lawmakers would participate in the hearings virtually. But Democrats said that virtual hearings on such a consequential matter would be unacceptable.

Republicans hold a narrow majority in the Senate, meaning they can only afford to lose three votes in their push to confirm Judge Barrett. Two Republicans, Senators Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and Susan Collins of Maine, have said they would not confirm a nominee before the election.

Back to top button