The risk of COVID-19 hovered over the opening of Amy Coney Barrett’s confirmation hearings in the United States Supreme Court on Monday, with the Senate courtroom comprising the judge’s children and at least one lawmaker who has tested positive for the disease.
Republican President Donald Trump officially named Barrett in a White House ceremony on September 26. Days later, he and a series of counselors tested positive for the respiratory illness which has killed more than 214,000 people in the United States.
Senator Kamala Harris, a member of the Judiciary Committee and running mate on the Democratic ticket challenging Trump in the Nov. 3 election, said the hearing should have been postponed due to the recent spate of infections.
Republican Senator Mike Lee, one of two members of the Senate Judiciary Committee who tested positive, attended the hearing in person on Monday.
” I feel good! Lee, wearing a blue surgical mask, told reporters as he entered the courtroom on Monday, nine days after disclosing his positive test, which would normally result in a 10 to 14 day quarantine.
Lee took off his mask to make his opening statement, before the audience which included some of the older members of the Senate – as well as Barrett’s husband, children and siblings.
Democrats and many public health experts have attacked Trump for his handling of a pandemic that has killed more people in the United States than in any other country.
Harris, who spoke via video link, said the panel had been reckless as Republicans scrambled to confirm Barrett ahead of the election.
“This committee has ignored common sense requests to keep people safe – including not requiring testing for all members – despite a coronavirus outbreak among senators on that same committee,” she said.
Trump’s appointment of Barrett to a vacant post created by the death last month of liberal icon Ruth Bader Ginsburg just weeks before the election has angry Democrats, still furious that Republicans refuse to consider a candidate for Democratic President Barack Obama some 10 months before the 2016 election.
Senator Lindsey Graham, Republican chairman of the committee and a close ally of Trump, insisted that enough had been done.
“We have set up a room so that we can do our business safely,” he noted.
Graham’s Senate re-election debate was called off Friday after refusing to be tested for the coronavirus. Opinion polls show Graham is in a tight race to win a fourth term as a senator from South Carolina.
Graham said he was tested a week before the debate, reiterating after Harris’ remarks that all safety precautions had been taken. “I’m not going to tell myself to be tested by political opponents. I will be tested as an individual when the CDC requires it, ”he said.
The other member of the Republican committee to test positive after the September 26 event, Thom Tillis, was not in the courtroom. He had announced he would be among the senators participating remotely on Monday, but is expected to appear in person later in the week.
Barrett was seen removing her mask at least once as Lee spoke, as she took a sip of water.
The expansive courtroom at Hart’s Senate Office Building is the largest in the vast Capitol complex, where 20,000 people work and thousands more come on a normal, non-pandemic weekday.
Barrett’s children were also at the September 26 event.
The private Indiana school they attend reported less than two weeks after the Rose Garden ceremony that at least two students and a teacher had tested positive.
The Washington Post reported that Barrett tested positive earlier this year but has since recovered, citing three officials familiar with his diagnosis. The White House declined to comment.
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