Infected Republican senator Ron Johnson says he would wear a ‘moon suit’ if necessary to allow him to vote on Amy Coney Barrett’s confirmation to the Supreme Court despite the coronavirus outbreak in Washington.
The Covid-19 outbreak at the White House, which has been linked to the Rose Garden event where Barrett’s nomination was announced by Donald Trump, has thrown Republican plans into doubt as they push to confirm her before the election.
But the GOP leadership is pushing ahead with committee hearings next week and Johnson said there was ‘no reason’ why Barrett could not be confirmed in time.
His Senate colleague Tom Cotton, who has not tested positive, said sick members could be ‘wheeled in’ if necessary to provide the necessary votes.
Amy Coney Barrett speaks after she is nominated to the Supreme Court by Donald Trump last month, at an event linked to the spread of coronavirus at the White House
Two Republican senators – Thom Tillis and Mike Lee – have tested positive after attending the Rose Garden event, while Johnson was not at the ceremony but mingled with fellow senators in Washington last week.
President Trump, first lady Melania Trump and other aides including press secretary Kayleigh McEnany have also tested positive since Barrett’s nomination ceremony.
Sen. Johnson, 65, said he would be willing to change Senate rules to allow members to take part virtually if necessary.
Telling radio station 630 KHOW that ‘we’ve learned to conduct the business of the Senate over the internet’, the Wisconsin senator accused Democratic majority leader Chuck Schumer of being ‘as obstructionist as possible’.
‘There’s no reason we can’t confirm Judge Barrett, even quite honestly if we had to vote electronically,’ he said.
‘We can certainly hold the confirmation hearings electronically. We all use the internet, it’s a great device. So is the telephone.
‘But if we have to go in and vote, I’ve already told the leadership, I’ll go in in a moon suit. We think this is pretty important.’
Johnson said he would try to find a way to vote on Barrett’s confirmation even if he tested positive the day before the final vote.
‘You can go into the medical clinic, you can take precautions and do it safely, but we wouldn’t be able to do that on the floor of the Senate? You know, where there’s a will, there’s a way, we can do these things,’ he said.
Cotton, of Arkansas, insisted in an interview with Fox News host Maria Bartiromo that ‘the hearing is going forward, no doubt in my mind’.
‘Everyone is eager to be at work when they need to be at work… none of this should have any impact on the schedule of the Senate,’ Cotton said.
Ron Johnson (pictured) of Wisconsin says he would wear a ‘moon suit’ if necessary to allow him to vote on the confirmation of Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court
Arkansas senator Tom Cotton (pictured) who has not tested positive, said sick members could be ‘wheeled in’ if necessary to provide the necessary votes
He added: ‘Several of the senators who are in isolation right now [will] come out of isolation before those hearings begin.
‘But the Senate Judiciary Committee has also conducted 20 hearings this year that have either been in part or in whole virtual.
‘Many Senate Democrats who are now saying we couldn’t possibly do a virtual hearing were demanding throughout this year going back to March that all committees be conducted over Zoom or Webex or some other kind of virtual hearing.
‘So the hearing is going forward, no doubt in my mind’ starting on Tuesday next week, he added.
Discussing an eventual vote of the full Senate, Cotton said: ‘First off, I think every senator who’s currently tested positive or is in isolation will be back to work under normal conditions, as other senators have been as well.
‘But if that’s not the case, there is a long and venerable tradition of ill or medically infirm senators being wheeled in to cast critical votes on the Senate floor.’
Cotton gave the example of West Virginia senator Robert Byrd voting on Obamacare in 2009, when he was 92 and attended in a wheelchair months before his death.
‘So I’m confident that every senator will be in attendance when his or her vote is needed,’ Cotton said.
GOP Senate leader Mitch McConnell said on Monday that committee hearings would be partly virtual to allow people to take part remotely.
‘We are going ahead with the full, thorough and timely confirmation process that Judge Barrett and the court deserve,’ McConnell said.
Confirming Barrett to replace the liberal Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who died last month, would give conservatives a 6-3 majority on the court.
Democrats say a new judge should not be confirmed until after the election, echoing McConnell’s argument to stall Barack Obama’s pick in 2016.
Guests including Melania Trump and Mike Pence sat in tightly-packed rows of chairs at the September 26 event where few people wore masks
Barrett was confirmed as Trump’s pick at the Rose Garden event on September 26, where guests sat in closely-packed rows of chairs with no social distancing.
Trump gathered more than 150 people in the Rose Garden, where they mingled, hugged and shook hands – overwhelmingly without masks.
There were also several indoor receptions, where Barrett, her family, senators and others gathered in the close quarters inside the White House.
In the days after the Rose Garden event, Trump attended the presidential debate with Joe Biden in Cleveland, Ohio as well as numerous campaign events.
Hope Hicks reportedly felt unwell on a Wednesday night flight on Air Force One, but not until the early hours of Friday did Trump reveal he had tested positive.
First lady Melania Trump, press secretary Kayleigh McEnany and former New Jersey governor Chris Christie are among the others who have tested positive.
Pastor Greg Laurie, the head of California megachurch Harvest Christian Fellowship, announced yesterday that he had tested positive on Friday.
White House officials have relied on daily testing to protect the president from Covid-19, ramping up tests after two staffers were infected in May.
Trump is ‘tested more than anyone, multiple times a day. And we believe that he’s acting appropriately,’ McEnany said in July.
However, experts warn that cases can be missed in the early stages of infection, meaning that testing is not a totally effective shield against Covid-19.
When the virus enters the body, it takes over a cell’s machinery to copy itself, while fending off the body’s immune defenses.
But the process takes a few days, so people can be infectious for a while before viral particles can be detected by a test.