Sen. Thom Tillis, a Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee, said Tuesday he expects to participate in the confirmation hearings for Supreme Court nominee Amy Coney Barrett remotely but believes he will be cleared to return to the Capitol in person to vote on moving her nomination out of committee.
“I’m on a path for being able to be cleared, I don’t have any symptoms, I feel great. On a path to being cleared and be back in the Capitol for the hearings,” the North Carolina senator said in an interview on “Fox & Friends.” “I have to clear, I’m following the doctors’ guidance, I’m self-quarantined. But as it’s progressing, my guess is I would join virtually for the first day or two and then I should be cleared for the vote later in the week.”
The comments from Tillis come as Republicans are being forced to adjust their playbook on confirming Barrett after three members of their caucus, including Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, also on the Judiciary Committee, tested positive for the coronavirus. Hearings on Barrett are set to begin Oct. 12. Democrats have warned that sending senators and staffers to work on the nomination puts them at risk and said that virtual hearings are not sufficient for considering a Supreme Court nominee.
“The idea of having virtual hearings where no one is with the witness for the highest court in the land for a life appointment that would have such effect on peoples’ lives makes no sense,” Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said in a Sunday press conference. “A virtual hearing is virtually no hearing at all.”
Tillis said those comments are disingenuous because the Senate has been holding virtual hearings all spring and summer, even as recently as last week when the Judiciary Committee took testimony from former FBI Director James Comey virtually.
“Chuck Schumer and others criticizing us for virtual meetings — they won’t even meet with the candidate but now they want to see all of us in person,” Tillis said. “The virtual meetings have become standard since COVID hit our shores. We can go in and for the first few days do it virtually and still be there in person as we have to be for the vote.”
Tillis told the morning show hosts he is “symptom-free” and “ready to get back to work.”
Before the coronavirus cases hit the GOP caucus last week, the Barrett hearing was planned to be held in-person, but to keep the confirmation on schedule for the end of the month Republicans called an audible to move the hearing to be partially in person and partially virtual with significant health precautions.
“Since May, the Judiciary Committee has operated flawlessly through a hybrid method that has seen some Senators appear physically at its hearings while other members have participated virtually,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said in a statement after the news of the Republican coronavirus diagnoses. “The Committee has utilized this format successfully for many months while protecting the health and safety of all involved.”
Among the resources available — outside of the option for senators to appear virtually — will be PPE stations, sanitary stations and a move to a larger hearing room with strict limits on the people allowed in. The Architect of the Capitol, Office of the Attending Physician, Capitol Police and Senate Sergent at Arms are all involved in ensuring the Barrett hearing complies with social distancing guidelines.
It is unclear what senators besides Tillis will choose to do, but Judiciary Committee Chairman Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., will lead the hearing in person. Lee, who is also coronavirus-positive, will most likely appear remotely as well.
Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., disagrees that a virtual hearing will work for a Supreme Court nominee.
“This is for the highest court in the land,” she said on “Fox News Sunday.” “You want to be able to go back and forth with this nominee.”
Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wis., who is also infected with the coronavirus but is not on the Judiciary Committee, said during an interview on a Denver radio show this week that he would show up for an eventual floor vote on Barrett no matter his prognosis at the time, even if it means he has to wear a “moon suit.” If Johnson does not experience any complications from the virus, however, it is likely he will be recovered and be testing negative for the virus by the time a vote is held later this month.
While a “moon suit” would break the rules of decorum on the Senate floor, Johnson’s comment underscores the fact that Republicans will need to continue to be flexible with their plans if they want to successfully seat Barrett on the Supreme Court before Election Day.
“There are times when the senators would have gone and played golf when I worked in the Senate and they would be wearing shorts, so they’d be in the cloakroom and they couldn’t come out onto the floor,” James Wallner, a resident senior fellow for governance at the R Street Institute, told Fox News. “So they just kind of opened the door and put their hand up or down. So that stuff is certainly possible.”
Fox News’ Brooke Singman and Chad Pergram contributed to this report.