Senate republicans vowed to move forward with the confirmation of donald trumps third supreme court justice even as the president and several senators became infected with coronavirus.
The outbreak of the virus among top republican officials, who had congregated last month for the announcement of amy coney barretts nomination to the high court, has complicated efforts to install the conservative judge before the november 3 general election.
On monday ron johnson, one of three republican senators who is quarantining after testing positive for coronavirus, said he would vote to confirm ms barrett despite his diagnosis. republicans have a 53-47 majority in the senate.
If we have to go in and vote, ive already told leadership ill go in a moon suit, he said during a radio interview on the ross kaminsky show. where theres a will theres a way. we can do these things.
Ms barretts elevation to the supreme court is an important prize for republicans and would create a 6-3 conservative majority. her appointment would replace a staunch liberal, the late ruth bader ginsburg, with a justice who is enthusiastically supported by anti-abortion campaigners.
The republican-controlled senate judiciary committee is set to commence hearings next week even though two of the committees republican members, mike lee and thom tillis, are quarantining after testing positive for coronavirus.
Their physical absence will set up a partially-virtual confirmation hearing, a first for a supreme court nominee, even after mitch mcconnell, the republican senate majority leader, adjourned the senate for legislative business until october 19 for safety reasons.
Were full steam ahead with a very thorough and timely confirmation process that judge barrett, the court and the nation deserve, he said on the senate floor on monday.
Although congress has adapted to the pandemic by allowing witnesses and lawmakers to participate in hearings virtually, some processes in the senate still require physical attendance.
In order to report ms barretts nomination to the full senate for a vote, the senate judiciary committee needs a majority of its members to be physically present and support the motion. and the senate, unlike the democrat-controlled house of representatives, has not permitted virtual voting.
Republicans have a 12-10 majority on the senate judiciary committee, and a 53-47 majority in the senate as a whole. the absence of just a handful of republicans at key moments because of coronavirus could imperil ms barretts confirmation.
On friday mr mcconnell acknowledged in an interview with radio host hugh hewitt that coronavirus was the biggest enemy in pushing ms barretts confirmation through in short order.
He declined in the interview to say whether the senate would vote on ms barrett before the november 3 election, saying that he had not picked an exact point to bring the nomination up.
If mr mcconnell can ensure his senators are available to vote, democrats lack few tools to stop him pushing through ms barretts nomination. one advantage the republican senate leader has is that the senators who have tested positive for coronavirus thus far will have exited their self-quarantine period by the latter half of october.
The senate judiciary committee isnt going to take a vote on the barrett nomination until at least a week after the hearing concludes, and theres no reason to believe the senate will not be back at full strength by then, said john malcolm, a vice-president at the conservative heritage foundation.
But democratic lawmakers are still hoping they can cause enough political pain for republicans in close election contests to force them to reconsider.
Lindsey graham, the republican chairman of the judiciary committee, is handling ms barretts confirmation at the same time as he battles for his political life in south carolina.
Mr graham has represented the traditionally republican state in the senate for almost 18 years, but recent opinion polls show him neck-and-neck with his democratic opponent, jaime harrison, who has raised more than $30m so far this campaign cycle.
Along with mr graham, other republican committee members such as mr tillis and joni ernst face some of the most competitive re-election races in the senate.
A realclearpolitics average of polls show mr tillis and ms ernst trailing their democratic challengers by 6 points and 5 points respectively, while mr grahams race has been classified as a toss-up.
It could be asking a lot for senator graham to come to washington for this hearing, which will be a constant reminder of his 180 degree flip-flop, sheldon whitehouse, the democratic senator from rhode island who sits on the judiciary committee, told reporters on monday.
When its your election thats on the line, that has a way of focusing the mind, he added.
On monday mr graham showed little sign he viewed the supreme court battle as a liability. he tweeted that he had spoken with mr trump and said the president was very excited about judge amy coney barrett being confirmed to the supreme court.