Virus spreads on US Senate panel handling Supreme Court nomination



WASHINGTON: Two Republican members of the Senate Judiciary Committee have tested positive for the coronavirus, raising questions about the timing of Supreme Court confirmation hearings for Judge Amy Coney Barrett and whether additional senators may have been exposed.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell declared the confirmation process was going full steam ahead.

North Carolina Sen. Thom Tillis and Utah Sen. Mike Lee both said that they had tested positive for the virus. Both had attended a ceremony for Barrett at the White House on Sept 25 with President Donald Trump, who announced that he had tested positive and was later hospitalised at Walter Reed National Military Medical Centre.

Lee, who did not wear a mask at the White House event, said he had symptoms consistent with longtime allergies.” Tillis, who did wear a mask during the public portion of the event, said he had mild symptoms. Both said they would quarantine for 10 days ending just before Barrett’s confirmation hearings begin on Oct 12.

The positive tests come as Senate Republicans are pushing to quickly confirm Barrett in the few weeks they have before the Nov 3 election. There is little cushion in the schedule set out by Judiciary Committee Chairman Lindsey Graham and McConnell, who want to put a third Trump nominee on the court immediately in case they lose any of their power in the election.

Democrats, many of whom have been critical of Barrett, seized on the virus announcements to call for a delay in the hearings.

“We now have two members of the Senate Judiciary Committee who have tested positive for Covid, and there may be more,” tweeted Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer. 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.

Several other members of the Judiciary panel attended the White House ceremony, including Missouri Sen. Josh Hawley, Nebraska Sen. Ben Sasse, Tennessee Sen. Marsha Blackburn and Idaho Sen. Mike Crapo. Blackburn said she tested negative after the event. Crapo said he recently had a negative test and a spokeswoman said he would be getting another one as soon as it could be arranged.

A spokeswoman for Hawley said he was being tested on Saturday, and the senator tweeted later that his coronavirus test came back negative.

Sasse tested negative, but said in a statement that he would work remotely from his home state and undergo further testing due to his “close interaction with multiple infected individuals,” his office said. He said he planned to to return to Washington in time for the confirmation hearing.

Graham was not at the White House on Saturday but sees Trump frequently. He said that he had taken a test after interacting with Lee and it was negative.

A spokeswoman for another GOP member of the committee, Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, said that he had also interacted with Lee and had also tested negative. Still, Cruz’s office said he is remaining at home until the hearings out of an abundance of caution.

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