Democrat leadership suddenly changed its mind on holding virtual Congressional sessions Monday after Republican leaders suggested that judge Amy Coney Barrett’s Supreme Court nomination hearings could be held online.
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) told media Monday that he and other Democrats plan to use “every tool in the toolbox” to delay Barrett’s confirmation and will not agree to hold “virtual” sessions of the Senate Judiciary Committee, even though Democratic leaders in the House pressed for remove voting and “virtual” Congressional meetups back in March amid concerns about the spread of the novel coronavirus.
“The idea of having virtual hearings where no one is with the witness for the highest court in the land for a life appointment that would have such effect on people’s lives makes no sense. A virtual hearing is virtually no hearing at all,” Schumer said in a statement.
Speaking Monday, Schumer added that it is “not safe” for hearings to go forward because at least two Republican members of the Senate Judiciary Committee, who attended Barrett’s nomination ceremony last week, have since tested positive for COVID-19, though neither reports showing symptoms of infection.
Senate Judiciary Committee member, Democrat Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) announced that he was tested for the virus over the weekend, though it is not known if he had reason to believe he came into contact with the virus during the course of his Congressional work.
“If it’s not safe for the Senate to be in session, it’s not safe for the hearings to go forward,” Schumer said, referencing Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s (R-KY) plan to delay all Senate business for two weeks, except for the confirmation hearings, due to start on October 16.
“Schumer said holding the hearings would endanger senators and staff, and he dismissed virtual hearings as insufficient for a lifetime appointment that he said could cast deciding votes on ending abortion rights, protections for pre-existing health conditions and more,” according to Business Insider.
Schumer also accused McConnell of ignoring the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidelines about coronavirus testing. McConnell fired back that the decision was made jointly with Democratic House leadership and Congressional medical staff to limit coronavirus testing.
The Supreme Court itself is now entirely virtual, and Democrats pressed for virtual hearings just months ago, closer to the start of the coronavirus pandemic. At the time, the GOP objected to their plan, which allowed for “proxy voting in addition to virtual committee work,” according to The Hill. The measure ultimately passed without Republican support, allowing the Democrats, at the time, to pass their own second coronavirus stimulus plan — the HEROES Act, which is now the basis for their overall negotiations on coronavirus relief.
Democrats, of course, are looking for any excuse to delay or derail Barrett’s Supreme Court hearings, pressing late last month to move forward with plans to “pack” the Supreme Court if Barrett is confirmed or to end the Senate filibuster. Last week, Democrats suggested using procedural limitations to end the Senate hearings after just two hours, but McConnell threatened to use the additional time off the floor to approve lower court judges, sending Democrats scrambling.