With the news that President Donald Trump had tested positive for COVID-19, the nation and world were suddenly on notice that the remaining days of the 2020 election won’t unfold the way we were expecting.
But it was an announcement from Sen. Mike Lee (R-UT) a few hours later that resounded most thunderously on Capitol Hill, because that diagnosis could well derail the confirmation of Amy Coney Barrett, who was nominated last Saturday to the U.S. Supreme Court.
Sen. Lee, it turns out, has also tested positive for COVID-19 and will have to quarantine for at least 14 days.
Just hours after daybreak Friday morning, word began spreading among the upper echelons of the Senate, and by lunchtime a full-scale panic had set in, according to Robert Costa of The Washington Post:
A Senate GOP aide, on background, tells the Post that some Rs are now discussing asking Leader McConnell to "take the Senate out of session next week" before the ACB hearings start in mid-October.— Robert Costa (@costareports) October 2, 2020
"If some in the Republican caucus get sick, we are screwed," the aide says.
Earlier this week, Lee met with Barrett as his Senate office as her nomination prepares to move forward. But imagine the chaos among the GOP if two or three more Republican senators also discover they have coronavirus. In such a scenario, it’s very likely Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) wouldn’t have the votes he needs to get Barrett confirmed.
Hoping to put a positive spin on the entire matter, McConnell vowed to move forward with Trump’s SCOTUS pick, remarking:
“The plan is for the nomination to come out of the committee on October the 22nd as Chairman Lindsey Graham has indicated, and we will be voting on the nominee very soon. I haven’t picked an exact point to bring the nomination up. But it is front and center for the American people. As we move ahead I will be more specific on the precise time on the Senate floor.”
That’s the “plan,” but plans don’t always work out the way one expects.
Now consider what might happen if a couple more GOP senators are diagnosed with coronavirus. Suddenly, McConnell wouldn’t have the votes he needs to guarantee Barrett’s confirmation to the high court. And that means the nomination would not be able to proceed before the election, which is McConnell’s goal.
And what happens if Trump’s “mild” COVID-19 symptoms become more serious and he winds up in the hospital? Granted, Mike Pence would assume the duties of the presidency, but would McConnell still try to ram through Barrett’s nomination if Trump’s health deteriorated and he clung to life?
Amy Coney Barrett may have thought her confirmation was just a formality. But at the moment, she might not want to plan on joining the SCOTUS brethren anytime soon.