How Could Coronavirus Outbreak Affect SCOTUS Nomination Hearings?

( As Washington is dealing with a coronavirus outbreak that has affected the president, high-ranking officials close to him and senators as well, Republicans are preparing to move forward with their plan to streamline the Supreme Court confirmation hearings for nominee Amy Coney Barrett.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has already announced all floor action would halt over the next two weeks as a move to prevent the potential spread of coronavirus among Senate members and staffers. No votes will happen on the Senate floor either this week or next week as a result.

Writing to Republicans senators over the weekend, McConnell said:

“The Senate will go into pro forma session until October 19th. On that day, we will need all Republican Senators back and healthy to ensure we have a quorum.”

Republicans can push through the nomination of Barrett because of the party’s majority in the Senate. However, that can only be done if no more than three Senators vote against the confirmation. If some Senators aren’t able to present because of a coronavirus infection, though, that would throw those numbers off considerably.

It’s one of the reasons why McConnell made a swift decision to cancel floor action for the Senate over the next two weeks, in addition to the obvious concerns about the spread of the virus.

Even though the whole Senate won’t be holding floor action, the Senate Judiciary Committee still has plans to meet starting the week of October 12 to begin hearings for Barrett’s confirmation. Following this decision, many Democrats were up in arms, arguing that if it’s not safe enough for the whole Senate to meet, then it also isn’t safe for the Senate Judiciary Committee to meet.

Some aides to both Republicans and Democrats have said that measures will be put in place to be extra cautious during Barrett’s hearings. This could include a limit on the number of people who are allowed in the room — including both spectators and staffers.

It’s also likely that additional seating is brought in so that members of the Senate Judiciary Committee can spread out more. It’s unclear where there will be coronavirus screening measures in place before the hearings begin, and whether any testing will be administered to those who are attending.

It’s also possible that the schedule of the hearings themselves could change slightly. Typically, the hearings last all day. But, with the threat of the coronavirus on Capitol Hill, it’s possible the hearings could be broken up into smaller sessions that stretch out longer.

Another hurdle to overcome is that two members of the Senate Judiciary Committee were recently diagnosed with COVID-19. Those Senators are both Republicans — Thom Tillis of North Carolina and Mike Lee of Utah. When they’ll be deemed health enough to return to Capitol Hill is unclear at this point, but their presence at the hearings is likely necessary for Republicans to move forward.

The committee consists of 10 Democrats and 12 Republicans. It means that in order for the committee to have a quorum, one of the two Senators currently out due to COVID would have to return by the voting date.