Senate Republicans are taking steps to reduce the risk of coronavirus spread at hearings for Supreme Court nominee Amy Coney Barrett, seeking to keep the confirmation process on track in face of Democratic objections following the infection of two panel members.
The Senate Judiciary Committee hearings, scheduled to begin Oct. 12, will be held in a spacious room in the Hart Senate Office Building used for such purposes in the past. But modifications will be made, including a second dais to allow greater distance between the senators, according to a Republican aide familiar with the plans.
Each senator, along with Barrett, will have their own sanitary station with sanitizer, paper towels and trash cans. Face masks and gloves will be available throughout the room, best known for its grand white-granite backdrop behind the dais.
Members of the public won’t be allowed in, according to the aide. The public hasn’t been allowed inside the Capitol or Senate office buildings since the spring due to the pandemic. But excluding the public makes for a much lower-pressure backdrop for Barrett, whose nomination by President Donald Trump stoked criticism, coming weeks before Election Day. Nomination hearings for current Justice Brett Kavanaugh two years ago saw protesters repeatedly shout over the nominee, with dozens arrested over several days of contentious proceedings.
Senators will have the option of attending online rather than in person, the aide said, a practice the committee has allowed for its hearings since shortly after the pandemic hit the U.S. Committee rules won’t give Republicans, who control the committee, the chance to remotely cast votes — planned for later this month — to advance Barrett’s nomination to the full Senate.
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The moves follow strident calls from Democrats, led by Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, to put off the hearings until they can be held safely. The White House announcement ceremony where Trump unveiled his pick for the high court has itself become a suspected channel for spreading Covid-19. At least 10 attendees at the Rose Garden event have now tested positive.
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Schumer on Monday asked Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to ensure every member of the Judiciary Committee be tested for the coronavirus before any proceedings. Republicans have yet to respond. Democrats also have called for the hearings to be in person and not virtual.
Two Republican members of the panel — Mike Lee of Utah and Thom Tillis of North Carolina — have tested positive, as has a third GOP senator, Ron Johnson of Wisconsin. Johnson said in a radio interview he would “go in in a moon suit” if needed to vote.
The Senate Judiciary panel’s protective measures for the hearings include a restriction that each senator bring only one aide. Only 10 reporters will be allowed to be seated in the main room, where more than 100 had been credentialed to cover an initial round of hearings for Kavanaugh in 2018. Other media may be seated in small balconies one floor above, with details still under discussion.
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