One week after prominent members of the Republican Party gathered at the White House to "celebrate" the nomination of federal judge Amy Coney Barrett to the U.S. Supreme Court, it was discovered that the September 26 event was likely a congressional superspreader of the coronavirus. Notable Republicans present at the (largely maskless, not at all distanced) event at the Rose Garden — including Donald and Melania Trump, Utah Sen. Mike Lee, North Carolina Sen. Thom Tillis, Trump senior adviser Hope Hicks, and former Counselor to the President Kellyanne Conway — announced their positive COVID-19 diagnoses on Friday and throughout the weekend.
But Barrett, who was nominated by Trump to fill the SCOTUS seat left behind by Ruth Bader Ginsburg, has proved herself to be a darling among many conservative members of the Senate — and as such, they wanted to commemorate her with a fully loaded pandemic event. Senate Majority leader Mitch McConnell wasted no time speeding through the process to get Barrett seated before November’s presidential election, getting the approval of nearly all of the Senate Republicans with the exception of Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski and Maine Sen. Susan Collins of Maine.
Although the expedited process has been criticized by the Senate Democrats, who noted that Obama was not afforded the opportunity to appoint a new SCOTUS judge well before his term ended, Republicans have remained steadfast in Amy Coney Barrett's nomination. But that seems to have taken a sudden change: now that her nomination party has proven to be detrimental to the health of so many, is it possible Barrett no longer has the votes needed to cinch her Supreme Court Justice seat?
That answer is currently a big maybe. Since the confirmation of so many positive cases, Mitch McConnell announced a two-week Senate recess on Saturday so that those infected could recover and others who have come in contact with the virus could be quarantined; the Senate is scheduled to meet again on October 19. Despite this, the confirmation hearings for Barrett are still scheduled to begin on October 12, meaning that it's possible at least three key Republican senators who have contracted COVID-19 won't be able to vote in-person.
Thanks to some pandemic-era changes to Senate voting, it's possible they will allow those senators to vote remotely, though not without a fight from the Democratic minority voters. According to Senate voting and quorum procedures, technically, they must be present on the Senate floor during Barrett's confirmation.
While this seems like good news for Democrats, there are still a number of other ways opposing Senate leaders could push back: For example, if McConnell decides to slightly delay voting, or replace Senators Lee and Tillis on the Judiciary Committee so the voting could move forward, Barrett would still seem to have the majority vote.
But it's hard to say how this will unfold, considering the rising number of cases on Capitol Hill. In the days since the announcement of Donald and Melania Trump’s coronavirus diagnosis, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie has announced his diagnosis; Kellyanne Conway’s daughter Claudia announced on TikTok Sunday that she had also been diagnosed. As the virus has continued to super spread as a result of the lax enforcement of masks at the White House, Barrett herself has made no public statement on the multiple positive cases.
With nothing set in stone just yet, Senate leaders opposing Barrett’s vote won’t know what McConnell has up his sleeve until Barrett’s scheduled confirmation hearing on October 12. Until then, it’s a game of “will he or won’t he?”