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Saturday, 3 October 2020

Democrats threaten to block Amy Coney Barrett's confirmation by refusing to take part in the remote hearing as Chuck Schumer says process is 'irresponsible and dangerous'

 Leading Democrats have described pressing ahead with Amy Coney Barrett's Supreme Court nomination 'irresponsible and dangerous' and said a virtual confirmation is not acceptable, after seven people at her nomination ceremony tested positive for COVID-19.

Six of the 12 Republican members of the Senate Judiciary Committee were present at Saturday's event - Mike Lee, Marsha Blackburn, Ben Sasse, Josh Hawley, Thom Tillis, and Mike Crapo. 

Two - Lee and Tillis - tested positive on Friday. 

Coney Barrett, 48, tested negative on Friday, her office said. She had coronavirus this summer and has since recovered. 

Amy Coney Barrett is pictured on Saturday at her nomination hearing in the Rose Garden

Amy Coney Barrett is pictured on Saturday at her nomination hearing in the Rose Garden

Mike Lee on Saturday as Amy Coney Barrett was unveiled at the White House

Mike Lee on Saturday as Amy Coney Barrett was unveiled at the White House

Lee met on Tuesday with Supreme Court nominee Judge Amy Coney Barrett

Lee met on Tuesday with Supreme Court nominee Judge Amy Coney Barrett

She has spent the week meeting senators, including Lee, of Utah, who tested positive. 

Chuck Schumer, the most senior Democrat in the Senate, said it was time to postpone Coney Barrett's hearings, which were due to begin in mid October.


'We now have two members of the Senate Judiciary Committee who have tested positive for COVID, and there may be more,' he tweeted on Friday night. 

'I wish my colleagues well. It is irresponsible and dangerous to move forward with a hearing, and there is absolutely no good reason to do so.'

Republican Senate leader Mitch McConnell and Lindsey Graham, chair of the Judiciary Committee, insisted that they would proceed as scheduled, with virtual hearings if necessary.

Mitch McConnell, the Senate leader, has vowed that the hearings will go ahead

Mitch McConnell, the Senate leader, has vowed that the hearings will go ahead

Lindsey Graham, chair of the Judiciary Committee, said on Friday they were 'on track'

Lindsey Graham, chair of the Judiciary Committee, said on Friday they were 'on track'

Republicans are intent on ensuring Coney Barrett's confirmation before the election, to guarantee that the Supreme Court leans conservative for the foreseeable future.

Democrats are equally intent on stopping it, arguing that it was unacceptable to chose a new Supreme Court justice in an election year. 

'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,' said Dianne Feinstein, the 87-year-old ranking Democrat on the committee. 

'The unfortunate news about the infection of our colleague Senator Lee makes even more clear that health and safety must guide the schedule for the Senate. 

'In addition, there is bipartisan agreement that a virtual confirmation hearing for a lifetime appointment is not acceptable. 

'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.'

Feinstein's concerns were likely shared among many on the committee, especially given their ages.

Only four of the 12 Republicans on the committee - Ted Cruz, Ben Sasse, Josh Hawley and the confirmed-positive Lee - are aged under 50.

Six are in their 60s, and Chuck Grassley is, like Feinstein, 87. 

The average age of a senator is nearly 63, meaning most are considered to be in a high-risk category. 

Yet McConnell and Graham on Friday were unrepentant.  

With two Republicans already opposed to confirming a nominee so close to the November election, McConnell can afford to lose only one more vote on the Senate floor and still confirm Barrett. 

Because senators must be in the chamber to cast a vote, any absence of a Republican because of illness or necessary quarantine could put the vote tally at risk.

Republicans are 'keeping everybody healthy and well and in place to do our jobs,' McConnell said on the Hugh Hewitt radio show. 

'Every precaution needs to be taken. We don't anticipate any Democratic support at all, and therefore everybody needs to be in an all-hands-on-deck mind-set.'

Seven people have now tested positive for coronavirus, after attending Saturday's Rose Garden event. They are 1: Donald Trump, 2: Melania Trump, 3: University of Notre Dame President John Jenkins, 4: Senator Mike Lee, 5: Senator Thom Tillis, 6: Kellyanne Conway, and Hope Hicks (not pictured)

Seven people have now tested positive for coronavirus, after attending Saturday's Rose Garden event. They are 1: Donald Trump, 2: Melania Trump, 3: University of Notre Dame President John Jenkins, 4: Senator Mike Lee, 5: Senator Thom Tillis, 6: Kellyanne Conway, and Hope Hicks (not pictured)

At least 100 people were in attendance Saturday in the White House Rose Garden. So far, seven people including the President and First Lady have tested positive for coronavirus

At least 100 people were in attendance Saturday in the White House Rose Garden. So far, seven people including the President and First Lady have tested positive for coronavirus 

With few wearing masks to protect against the coronavirus, Republican senators joined other guests Saturday as Trump introduced 7th U.S. Circuit Court Judge Amy Coney Barrett, 48, as his nominee to the Supreme Court

With few wearing masks to protect against the coronavirus, Republican senators joined other guests Saturday as Trump introduced 7th U.S. Circuit Court Judge Amy Coney Barrett, 48, as his nominee to the Supreme Court

Chuck Schumer said it was 'irresponsible and dangerous' to press ahead with the hearings

Chuck Schumer said it was 'irresponsible and dangerous' to press ahead with the hearings

Graham said they were 'on track' to have Coney Barrett sworn in before the election, with the hearing scheduled to take place on October 12.

'We're in a good spot. She's going to get confirmed,' he said.

Senate committees have been meeting remotely and members of the Judiciary panel are expected to be able to do so also. 

Barrett and Graham are expected to be in the committee room, and senators will have the option of questioning remotely, according to a committee aide, who spoke to the Los Angeles Times.

Sanitizing stations will be at every senator's desk, and attendance will be strictly limited. 

Trump's diagnosis - as well as Lee's and Tillis' - amplified calls for more frequent or even mandatory testing in the Capitol.

McConnell said he would not cancel next week's planned Senate session.

'So far, the disease has not kept us from operating as we would normally, and there's no reason to expect that to be the case in the foreseeable future,' he said. 

Dianne Feinstein also argued that the health of senators should come first

Dianne Feinstein also argued that the health of senators should come first

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