By David Morgan
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Senate Republicans said on Friday they will press forward with the confirmation process for Supreme Court nominee Amy Coney Barrett despite President Donald Trump’s positive COVID-19 test, with Judiciary Committee hearings still set to begin on Oct. 12.
Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said the Senate would proceed with Barrett’s confirmation. The Republican president has asked that the Senate to confirm Barrett, a federal appeals court judge, by the Nov. 3 election, which would forge a 6-3 conservative majority on the top U.S. judicial body.
“I think we can move forward. Our biggest enemy, obviously, is … the coronavirus, keeping everybody healthy and well and in place to do our job,” McConnell told radio talk show host Hugh Hewitt.
“Full steam ahead,” an aide to Judiciary Committee Chairman Lindsey Graham told Reuters when asked if the schedule for hearings due to begin on Oct. 12 could change.
Graham spoke to Trump on Friday morning and said the first thing the president asked about was the Senate’s plan for Barrett’s confirmation, the aide added.
Barrett, who was last with Trump on Saturday, has tested negative for the coronavirus and is following government guidelines on social distancing and other best practices, according to a White House official. Barrett was last with Trump on Saturday when he nominated her, and has been meeting with individual senators on Capitol Hill this week, accompanied by Vice President Mike Pence, who has also tested negative.
McConnell described the Senate’s decision on whether to confirm Barrett as being “front and center for the American people” and said the Senate would act after a committee recommendation due on Oct. 22. Republicans control the Senate with a 53-47 majority, and Barrett’s confirmation seems to be a virtual lock despite opposition from Democrats.
Democrats have said the vacancy should be filled by the winner of the presidential election, a view shared by a majority of Americans in recent opinion polls. McConnell in 2016 refused to have the Senate consider Democratic President Barack Obama’s Supreme Court nominee Merrick Garland, saying such action should not be taken during an election year.
Barrett would replace liberal Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who died on Sept. 18 at age 87. Trump appointed Barrett to the Chicago-based 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in 2017.
Reporting by David Morgan; additional reporting by Steve Holland and Lisa Lambert; Editing by Will Dunham, Scott Malone and Chizu Nomiyama.