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GOP seeks to curtail Senate work, but not Barrett hearings

Laurie Kellman
Associated Press

Washington – Republicans on Saturday sought to call off legislative work in the Senate until Oct. 19 as the coronavirus reached into their ranks. But they vowed that hearings for President Donald Trump’s Supreme Court nominee would push ahead as planned.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said the confirmation hearings for Judge Amy Coney Barrett will still begin Oct. 12, even if Democrats agree to cancel the regular Senate session to avoid further spread of COVID-19. Since Friday morning, three GOP senators have announced they have tested positive.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Ky., meets with Supreme Court nominee Judge Amy Coney Barrett on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, Sept. 29, 2020.

“The Senate’s floor schedule will not interrupt the thorough, fair and historically supported confirmation process,” the Kentucky Republican wrote. “Certainly, all Republican members of the committee will participate in these important hearings.”

There was no immediate word on whether Senate Democrats would agree to shutter Senate business as McConnell requested.

In a statement, the Senate Judiciary Committee confirmed the panel would proceed on the nomination. It noted that committees can convene “regardless of whether or not the Senate is in session.” Chairman Lindsey Graham of South Carolina has said senators can attend the hearings virtually.

It was an emphatic reminder that Senate Republicans defending their majority had hoped for an election season finale focused on their power to solidify a conservative majority on the high court. But the whipsaw infections of Trump, who has been hospitalized, and a series of GOP senators since Friday morning raised significant worries in Republican circles about the spread of the virus at various events where masks have been scarce.

Concern began with the White House Rose Garden ceremony last Saturday where Trump introduced Barrett. In the audience, where few people wore masks, were members of the Judiciary Committee that will handle confirmation hearings. T wo members of the panel, Sens. Mike Lee of Utah and Thom Tillis of North Carolina, on Friday announced that like Trump, they had tested positive for the virus.

On Saturday, Sen. Ron Johnson of Wisconsin, who is not a member of the Judiciary panel, announced that he, too, had tested positive.

With three Republican senators infected and others awaiting results, McConnell is without a fully working majority of 50 senators. He would need to rely on Vice President Mike Pence to be on hand to break any tie votes.

Amid the outbreak, members of both chambers of Congress called for a comprehensive testing plan for Capitol Hill. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and McConnell have resisted doing so because universal testing is not available to everyone in America.