Amid speculation that positive coronavirus tests will interrupt Republican efforts to confirm Judge Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court, GOP senators are signaling they will do whatever it takes to ensure that President Donald Trump’s nominee receives a floor vote.
One senator who tested positive for COVID-19 even vowed to show up in “a moon suit” to vote if need be.
It was Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) who made the astronomic promise in a radio interview Monday, the Daily Caller reported. Johnson tested positive for coronavirus Friday, but has so far not presented any symptoms. Speaking to KHOW-AM, Johnson said he feels “perfectly fine” and vowed to be present for a confirmation vote on Barrett’s nomination.
“If we have to go in and vote, I’ve already told leadership I’ll go in a moon suit,” Johnson said.
Johnson is one of three Republican senators who announced positive coronavirus tests in a 24-hour-span over the weekend. The first was Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah), who attended the White House ceremony announcing Judge Barrett as Trump’s nominee to fill the Supreme Court vacancy left by the late Justice Ruth Bader GInsburg. Lee sits on the Senate Judiciary Committee, which will conduct confirmation hearings for Barrett. Sen. Thom Tillis (R-N.C.), who also sits on the Judiciary Committee, was the third Republican to test positive for the virus over the weekend. He and Lee have each reported mild symptoms.
In response to the positive tests, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) has called for the immediate postponement of Barrett’s confirmation hearings.
“We now have two members of the Senate Judiciary Committee who have tested positive for COVID, and there may be more,” Schumer tweeted. “I wish my colleagues well. It is irresponsible and dangerous to move forward with a hearing, and there is absolutely no good reason to do so.”
GOP Leader McConnell over the weekend announced a temporary halt to Senate activity, but said Barret’s confirmation hearing will move forward on Oct. 12.
Some have speculated that positive coronavirus tests may prevent Republicans from confirming Barrett to the court before Election Day.
“McConnell can only afford to lose three Republican senators’ votes and still push through a Supreme Court nominee, and he can’t risk exposing his members over the next several weeks to an unpredictable and relentless virus,” Lauren Fox wrote for CNN.
Fox pointed out that “both Republican Sens. Susan Collins of Maine and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska have already said they won’t back any GOP nominee ahead of Election Day. We are still weeks away from a floor vote, but that leaves little room for McConnell to find the votes if members of his conference contract or remain sick with Covid-19.”
She also noted that the Senate Judiciary Committee, composed of 12 Republicans and 10 Democrats, needs a quorum to begin confirmation hearing proceedings. “In order to have a quorum, Graham needs at least one of the two — Lee or Tillis — to be back. The fear is that if both were out, Democrats could boycott and keep Graham from having a quorum,” Fox said.
Republican senators say they are intent on being present for votes.
In a statement, Sen. Lee announced he would self-isolate for 10 days and said he has assured GOP Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and Senate Judiciary Committee chairman Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) that he “will be back to work in time to join my Judiciary Committee colleagues in advancing the Supreme Court nomination of Judge Amy Coney Barrett in the Committee and then to the full Senate.”
Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) also spoke to this issue over the weekend. Cotton does not sit on the Judiciary Committee, but he did express confidence every senator who needs to be present will vote, going as far to say in an interview with Fox News anchor Maria Bartiromo they will be “wheeled in” to the floor.
“Several of the senators who are in isolation right now would come out of isolation before those hearings begin. But the Senate Judiciary Committee has also conducted 20 hearings this year, that have either been in part or in whole virtual,” Cotton said. “Many Senate Democrats are now saying we couldn’t possibly do a virtual hearing or demanding throughout this year, going back to March, that all committees be conducted over Zoom or Webex or some other virtual hearing.”
“So the hearing is going to go forward, no doubt in my mind starting a week from tomorrow, Maria, and then on the Senate floor later this month,” Cotton continued. “First off, I think every senator who currently tested positive or is in isolation will be back to work under normal conditions, as other senators have been as well, like Rand Paul or Tim Kane. But if that’s not the case, Maria, there is a long and venerable tradition of ill or medically infirmed senators being wheeled in to cast critical votes on the Senate floor.”
Cotton cited the late Sen. Robert Byrd (D-W.V.) famously voting from a wheel chair in 2009, using hand signals to indicate “aye” or “nay.” Other United States senators in history have appeared to vote in the Senate despite medical conditions, including Sen. Ted Kennedy (D-Mass.) and Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), who each appeared for votes after undergoing surgery for brain cancer. In 1964, Democratic Sen. Clair Engle broke a filibuster in the Senate and voted for the Civil Rights Act while suffering from a brain tumor and unable to speak. He pointed to his eye to signal his “aye” vote.
“I’m confident that every senator will be in attendance when his or her vote is needed,” Cotton said.