The outbreak on Capitol Hill has cast a shadow over the expected nomination hearing of Supreme Court nominee Amy Coney Barrett scheduled for next week as questions remain about whether Republicans will have enough members in attendance to keep Barrett’s nomination on track for confirmation before Election Day.
In recent days, every single Democrat on the committee has been tested including Sen. Kamala Harris, the Democrats’ vice presidential nominee, who wasn’t at the Capitol last week, but so far has reported only negative results as part of regular testing on the campaign trail.
Democrats on the committee have taken a conservative approach to testing for coronavirus, arguing they elected to take tests “out of an abundance of caution” after attending one or two of the Judiciary Committee meetings last week even though none reported being in close contact with the Covid-positive senators.
Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California, who is 87 years old and the top Democratic member of the committee, was tested on Monday for coronavirus after attending the hearings last week where she was also seen speaking without a mask.
Two GOP members on the committee — Sens. Ted Cruz of Texas and Ben Sasse of Nebraska — are self-quarantining due to close contact with Covid-positive senators, but both Cruz and Sasse have reported testing negative.
The chairman of the committee, Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, also reported testing negative.
Republican Sen. John Kennedy of Louisiana, who is also on the committee, declined to say whether he was tested for coronavirus. Kennedy was not at the Rose Garden event nor at the markup judiciary held on Thursday of last week.
And Iowa GOP Sen. Joni Ernst’s office has not responded to multiple requests from CNN on whether she has been tested.
The Democratic senators on the committee that reported testing negative, in addition to Feinstein, are Sens. Patrick Leahy of Vermont, Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island, Dick Durbin of Illinois, Mazie Hirono of Hawaii, Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut, Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota and Cory Booker of New Jersey.
And Sen. Chris Coons of Delaware also reported testing negative, but said he was tested due to his attendance of the presidential debate.
The question of testing has become a flashpoint between Republican and Democrats on the committee as Democratic senators argue that testing should be required for all members, staff and media who attend the hearing in person. Discussions about testing are still ongoing, according to one GOP Senate aide.
But, the virus’ effects — no matter if testing is required — will loom large at Barrett’s hearing with aides preparing to supply wipes, sanitizer and PPE throughout the hearing room.
While Graham and Barrett are expected to attend in person, according to a GOP Senate aide familiar with the planning, that may not be the case for every member in the first days of the hearing. The number of individuals permitted in the large Senate hearing room will also be dramatically scaled back compared to the confirmation hearings of past Supreme Court nominees like Brett Kavanaugh and Neil Gorsuch.
Each senator will be allowed one aide with a possible exception for the chairman and ranking member who may get two. And instead of the roughly 100 reporters stationed on the floor of the hearing room in years past, this confirmation will be limited to roughly a dozen, the aide said. The aide said that five administration officials from the White House and Justice Department will be permitted to attend, but there will be no public seating, which has been the case for hearings on Capitol Hill for months.