By Ana Radelat
Washington – Sen. Richard Blumenthal was among those being tested for the coronavirus today following President Donald Trump’s announcement that he has contracted COVID-19, unleashing a wave of concern about the president’s recent contacts.
Blumenthal had been at a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on Thursday that was also attended by Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, who announced today he has tested positive for the virus.
Lee had also been at Trump’s Rose Garden announcement of Amy Coney Barrett’s nomination to the Supreme Court on Saturday, sitting, without a mask, with other Republicans on the Judiciary Committee.
Spokeswoman Maria McElwain said Blumenthal had sat across the room from Lee at Thursday’s Judiciary Committee hearing, but was getting tested “out of an abundance of caution.”
Unable to block Barrett’s nomination, Senate Democrats, including Blumenthal and Sen. Chris Murphy, are trying to delay proceedings. Today, the announcement that Lee has tested positive for COVID-19 was another reason Democrats cited to slow down the confirmation process.
Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer of New York and Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California, the top Democrat on the Judiciary Committee, cited Lee’s illness as a reason to delay the confirmation hearings for Barrett. They said virtual hearings, proposed by Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Lindsey Graham, R-S.C. would not be acceptable.
“It is premature for Chairman Graham to commit to a hearing schedule when we do not know the full extent of potential exposure stemming from the president’s infection and before the White House puts in place a contact tracing plan to prevent further spread of the disease,” Schumer and Feinstein said in a joint statement.
Meanwhile, Lee, today tweeted that he took the test Thursday, and would “remain isolated” for 10 days. He said he has “assured” Senate Republican leaders that he will “be back to work” to join the Judiciary panel to advance Barrett’s nomination.
Lee had accepted a “courtesy call” from Barrett this week. The nominee was administered a COVID-19 test following the news that Trump tested positive for the virus. It came back negative.
Murphy said Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., should implement new protocols to keep senators and their staff safe, including mandatory mask policy in the Capitol complex and implementation of a regular testing program for all senators and all Senate staff, including the Capitol police and cleaning, postal, and food service staff.
“No business should move forward in the Senate until we implement these protocols and have a full understanding of the scope of the White House spread,” Murphy said.
During a Friday teleconference with Planned Parenthood, Blumenthal said “our priorities should be the health and economic well-being of the nation.”
He also said “we should take the time that is needed to review [Barrett’s] record” and the confirmation process should not be rushed.
Senate Republican leaders have set a tight schedule for Barrett’s confirmation, with four days of hearings in the Senate Judiciary Committee scheduled to begin Oct. 12 and a confirmation vote set for the end of the month, just days before the election.
Earlier in the week, before the president announced that he and the First Lady had tested positive for the virus, Blumenthal and all other Democrats on the Senate Judiciary Committee sent Graham a letter demanding more time to vet the nominee.
“This timeline is a sharp departure from past practice. Even more, it undercuts the Senate’s ability to fulfill its advice and consent role and deprives the American people of a meaningful opportunity to gauge the nominee and her record for themselves,” the senators wrote.
The Democrats questioned whether the FBI would have enough time to vet the nominee and they would have enough time to review Barrett’s entire record. They also said they needed more time to question the nominee in person and submit written questions.
Meanwhile, today McConnell gave no indication that he expects Trump’s coronavirus results, and the uncertainty about those who have been in close contact with the president, will change the GOP’s schedule for trying to confirm Barrett.
“We will be voting on the nominee, you know, very soon. I haven’t picked an exact point to bring the nomination up, but it’s front and center for the American people and as we move ahead I’ll be more specific” about the timeline, McConnell said.