Majority Leader Mitch McConnell announced Saturday that he will seek permission for the Senate to remain out for two weeks instead of resuming work Monday, but hearings on Supreme Court nominee Amy Coney Barrett will continue as scheduled.
“On Monday, I intend to obtain a consent agreement for the Senate to meet in pro forma sessions for the next two weeks. Previously-scheduled floor activity will be rescheduled until after October 19th,” the Kentucky Republican said in a statement.
McConnell said Friday in Kentucky he expected senators to come back to Washington Oct. 5, despite uncertainty surrounding their exposure to COVID-19 in the wake of the positive diagnoses of President Donald Trump and Utah Republican Sen. Mike Lee. Since then, two more GOP senators, North Carolina’s Thom Tillis and Wisconsin’s Ron Johnson, revealed positive tests for the virus.
Johnson had been quarantining after an earlier interaction with someone who tested positive for COVID-19 and had returned to Washington on Tuesday. After learning of a new exposure this week, Johnson was tested again Friday. The result of that test came back positive, Johnson spokesman Ben Voelkel said Saturday.
Oklahoma GOP Sen. James Lankford, who said he was in contact with Lee, announced Saturday he would following Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines and “will continue to quarantine,” despite a negative test.
Nebraska Republican Sen. Ben Sasse, a Judiciary Committee member, tested negative Friday but would work remotely from his home until Oct. 12 because of "close interaction with multiple infected individuals," a spokesman said.
Under the rules, a majority of members must be present for the Senate to conduct business. Senators routinely waive the quorum requirement by unanimous consent. Without consent, at least 51 senators would need to be physically present in the Capitol.
If all Democrats were to not show up Monday, the chamber would not have been able to conduct business.
The Senate was scheduled to be in session Monday afternoon to begin consideration of five U.S. District Court nominations in Ohio, Florida and Kansas teed up by McConnell earlier this week.
During McConnell’s closing remarks Thursday, he asked the chamber for unanimous consent to proceed to consideration of one of the judges, Michael Jay Newman, tapped to be U.S. district judge for the Southern District of Ohio.
Some Senate watchers believed he also set up a 5:30 p.m. vote on another nominee teed up last week, Aileen Mercedes Cannon, a nominee for the district court bench in the Southern District of Florida, but that was not the case.
McConnell and his fellow GOP senators have a tight timeline if they want to get their Supreme Court nominee confirmed before Election Day.
Senate Judiciary proceedings are scheduled to begin Oct. 12 and McConnell told reporters Friday he hopes to take up Barrett’s nomination after it is reported out of the committee on or around Oct 22.
McConnell has not committed to a final vote before the election, but he reiterated Saturday there would be no change to her nomination schedule.
Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer called McConnell’s decision to proceed with the Barrett hearings “reckless and dangerous.”
“If it’s too dangerous to have the Senate in session it is also too dangerous for committee hearings to continue,” the New York Democrat said in a statement after his GOP counterpart revised the Senate calendar.
Lee and Tillis, who serve on Judiciary, both said they would quarantine for 10 days, allowing them to return just in time for the Barrett hearings.
McConnell’s Saturday statement included a reminder that the Judiciary Committee has allowed senators to appear at hearings virtually, and that will continue if other members cannot show up in person.
“The Committee has utilized this format successfully for many months while protecting the health and safety of all involved,” he said. “Certainly all Republican members of the committee will participate in these important hearings.”
Niels Lesniewski contributed to this report.