Democrats call out Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s Supreme Court replacement nominee Amy Coney Barrett
The risk of COVID-19 is hanging over the opening of US Supreme Court nominee Amy Coney Barrett’s confirmation hearings, with the Senate hearing room including at least one politician who recently tested positive for the disease.
- One Republican senator who tested positive to coronavirus attended the hearing and spoke without a mask
- Democrats have pushed for the hearing to be delayed for safety reasons
- Ms Barrett’s children left the hearing after about 90 minutes
President Donald Trump formally nominated Ms Barrett at a packed September 26 White House ceremony.
Less than a week later, he and a spate of close advisers and aides tested positive for the virus that has killed more than 214,000 Americans.
Republican senator Mike Lee, one of two members of the Senate Judiciary Committee to test positive, attended the confirmation hearing just nine days after his diagnosis.
Testing positive for the virus would normally prompt a 10- to 14–day quarantine.
“I feel great!” Mr Lee, who was wearing a blue surgical mask, told reporters as he entered the hearing room.
He took his mask off to deliver his opening statement to the audience, which included about a dozen of his fellow senators, some of who are among the chamber’s oldest members.
Ms Barrett’s husband and seven children also attended the hearing, which will continue for four days.
The children left after about 90 minutes.
Democrats and many public health experts have criticised Mr Trump for his handling of the pandemic, which has killed more people in the United States than in any other country.
‘It’s plainly unsafe’
The nomination of Ms Barrett to a vacancy, created by the death last month of liberal icon Ruth Bader Ginsburg just weeks before the upcoming election, enraged Democrats.
Ms Barrett’s confirmation would give the US Supreme Court court a 6–3 conservative majority, which could lead to rulings including rolling back abortion rights, expanding religious and gun rights, and upholding voting restrictions.
Democratic senators used the hearing to paint Ms Barrett as a threat to the Obamacare healthcare law, President Barack Obama’s signature domestic policy achievement that enabled millions of Americans to get medical coverage.
They also hit out at the decision to proceed with the hearings, despite the emergence of a COVID-19 cluster among top Trump allies.
“We should not be holding this hearing when it’s plainly unsafe,” said Democratic senator Patrick Leahy, who participated remotely via video link.
But Republicans, who hold a majority in the Senate and have the votes to approve the nominee, pressed ahead.
Senator Lindsey Graham, the committee’s Republican chairman and a close ally of Mr Trump, argued sufficient precautions had been taken.
The other Republican committee member to test positive after the September 26 event, Thom Tillis, was not in the hearing room and said he would participate remotely.
Ms Barrett was seen removing her mask at least once while Mr Lee was speaking, as she took a sip of water.
The vast hearing room in the Hart Senate Office Building is the largest in the sprawling Capitol complex, where 20,000 people work and thousands more visit on a normal, non-pandemic weekday.
Ms Barrett’s children had also attended the September 26 White House event.
The Washington Post reported Ms Barrett tested positive for coronavirus earlier this year but has since recovered, citing three officials familiar with her diagnosis.
The White House has declined comment.