US Senate will move forward with Barrett confirmation: McConnell

Republican majority leader says Senate will proceed with confirmation of Amy Coney Barrett despite COVID-19 risks.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has scheduled the confirmation hearing for Judge Amy Coney Barrett to begin on October 12 [Joshua Roberts/Reuters]

US Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has said the Senate can proceed with the confirmation of Supreme Court nominee Amy Coney Barrett, despite coronavirus concerns raised by President Donald Trump’s positive test result.

“Now we have an opportunity to put another Supreme Court justice in place,” McConnell told US radio talk show host Hugh Hewitt. “I think we can move forward.”

The president’s condition “certainly underscores that the coronavirus is not concerned about the American election … and that it’s not going away until we get a vaccine”, McConnell said.

“Our biggest enemy, obviously … is the Coronavirus, keeping everybody healthy and well and in place to do our job,” he said.

Barrett, who has been meeting one-on-one with Republican senators the past three days, has tested negative for the coronavirus. She was accompanied on the Senate visits by Vice President Mike Pence, who has also tested negative for the disease. Barrett was last with Trump when he announced her selection at the White House on Saturday.

Confirmation hearings in the Senate Judiciary Committee are scheduled to being on October 13.

“The plan is for the nomination to come out of committee on October 22nd, as chairman Lindsey Graham has indicated. And we will be voting on the nominee, you know, very soon,” McConnell said.

“I haven’t picked an exact point to bring the nomination up, but it’s front and centre for the American people. And as we move ahead, I’ll be more specific about the precise time for consideration on the floor.”

Judge Amy Coney Barrett, President Donald Trump’s nominee to the Supreme Court, has been meeting one-on-one with Republican senators on Capitol Hill in the past three days [Erin Scott/Pool via Reuters]

Trump is pushing McConnell and Senate Republicans to confirm Barrett before the November election with the expectation that the Supreme Court will rule on court challenges to mail-in ballots in what Trump is calling a rigged election.

“I’m counting on them to look at the ballots, definitely,” Trump said on September 30 about the Supreme Court.

The rush by Trump to fill the Supreme Court seat is drawing fierce objections from Democrats. It is the first time in US history a nominee will be voted on so close to a presidential election, with early voting already under way in half the states.

Democratic Senator Dick Durbin of Illinois said the reason for the quick confirmation of Trump’s nominee is clear: “He wants that 9th person to be his nominee. That’s what we face.”

The court currently has eight justices following the death of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. If Barrett fills her seat it would create a 6-3 conservative majority.

Senator Dick Durbin, the number two Democratic leader in the US Senate and other Democratic leaders have voiced concerns Trump is rushing Barrett’s confirmation to pack the court ahead of a fight over the November 3 election results [File: Carlos Barria/Reuters]

Democrats further fear Barrett is prepared to roll back Supreme Court decisions that have protected reproductive freedoms for women and they have focused on her Catholic religious beliefs.

Barrett signed a 2006 newspaper advertisement sponsored by an anti-abortion rights group in which she said she opposed “abortion on demand” and defended “the right to life from fertilization to the end of natural life”, according to The Associated Press news agency.

The advertisement, which had more than 1,200 names attached to it, appears to be the most direct expression of Barrett’s opposition to abortion and is sure to intensify debate that she would vote to restrict, if not overturn, abortion rights.

Barrett met for a third day on Friday with Republican senators on Capitol Hill. She declined to comment when asked why she did not disclose the advertisement in background materials submitted to the Judiciary Committee.

She was meeting with Senator Josh Hawley, a Republican who has pledged to support only court nominees who acknowledge that the landmark case Roe v Wade legalising abortion in 1973 was wrongly decided.

“How she will vote in the future on Roe, I don’t know,” Hawley said after the meeting.

Senator Mike Lee, a conservative Republican and constitutional scholar, tweeted his support for Barrett.

Most Democratic senators have refused to meet with Barrett in protest of her nomination so close to an election. In 2016, months prior to the presidential election, Senate Republicans had refused to meet President Barack Obama’s nominee to the high court, Merrick Garland.

Signalling the Republican line of defence of Barrett in the upcoming hearings, McConnell told Hewitt: “Discrimination against people of religion is on full display.

“I think our colleagues on the other side need to be reminded there is no religious test for public service in America, none whatsoever. And I think that the questions indicate a bias against people of faith as if they somehow can’t carry out their jobs objectively.”

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies