WASHINGTON (REUTERS) - The White House on Monday (Oct 26) planned a celebration to mark the Republican Senate's expected confirmation of President Donald Trump's conservative nominee Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court, a month after a similar event was linked to a Covid-19 outbreak that infected the President, among others.
While Democrats have fiercely opposed Ms Barrett's nomination, Republicans hold a 53-47 Senate majority and her confirmation to a lifetime post on the court seems assured. Mr Trump pressed the Senate to confirm Mrs Barrett before the Nov 3 election, which would create a 6-3 conservative majority on the top US judicial body.
Mrs Barrett, a federal appeals court judge, is Mr Trump's third selection for the court, enabling him to remake it in a dramatic fashion as part of his success in moving the broader federal judiciary to the right since taking office in 2017.
The Sept 26 Rose Garden ceremony at which Mr Trump officially named Mrs Barrett to replace the late liberal Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg preceded a wave of Covid-19 cases among top Republicans including Mr Trump and First Lady Melania Trump. The President spent three days hospitalised receiving Covid-19 treatment.
White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows told reporters the event planned for Monday evening likely would be held outdoors.
"Tonight, we'll be doing the best we can to encourage as much social distancing as possible," Mr Meadows said.
No nominee to the Supreme Court has ever been confirmed by the Senate this close to a presidential election. Mrs Barrett's confirmation would give Mr Trump - who has been touting his appointment of her at campaign rallies to the cheers of his supporters - a major political victory eight days before the election.
The rush to confirm Mrs Barrett, 48, has bitterly divided Democrats and Republicans, who are expected to split largely along party lines on the final vote. Mr Trump has said he expects the court to decide the election's outcome and wants Mrs Barrett on the bench to participate on any election-related cases that go before the justices.
Senator Mitt Romney, a rare Republican critic of Trump, on Monday urged colleagues to vote for Mrs Barrett, saying it would strengthen the court.
“The third branch may be one of the few institutions of our democratic republic that is not experiencing a collapse in pubic trust,” Mr Romney said, referring to the judiciary system including the Supreme Court.
But the Washington Post in an editorial argued the opposite point, saying that a court with Mrs Barrett on it could further undermine faith in the US democratic system if it hands Mr Trump victory in a contested election.
“The court’s reputation would be shattered, as would the public’s faith in democracy,” the newspaper wrote on Monday.
“Cementing a conservative majority on the court is not worth such a price.”
Senate Democrats and some Republicans expressed unease at the possibility that Vice-President Mike Pence, several of whose close aides have tested positive for the coronavirus, might attend Monday's vote.
Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer said Mr Pence "reportedly intends to come" to the Senate chamber to preside over the final vote, and blasted the Vice-President for being willing to put "the health of everyone who works in this building at risk".
Mr Meadows said he was not sure about Mr Pence's plans.
White House senior aide and Mr Trump's son-in-law Jared Kushner told Fox News that Mr Pence "knows the right protocols to follow, and I have every confidence that he's following those protocols".
The Centres for Disease Control and Prevention recommends people quarantine for 14 days if they have been in close contact with someone who tests positive for Covid-19.
Mrs Barrett, if confirmed, is expected to participate in arguments on Nov 10 in a case in which Mr Trump and Republican-led states are seeking to invalidate the Affordable Care Act. The 2010 healthcare law, also known as Obamacare, has helped millions of Americans obtain medical insurance and barred private insurers from denying medical coverage to people with pre-existing conditions.
Mrs Barrett has criticised previous rulings upholding Obamacare but said during her confirmation hearing she had no agenda to invalidate the measure.
During her confirmation hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee two weeks ago, Mrs Barrett, a favourite of Christian conservatives, sidestepped questions on abortion, presidential powers, climate change, voting rights, Obamacare and other issues.
"It is my belief that Judge Barrett represents a threat to the very rights - including reproductive rights, rights of LGBT individuals, and voting rights - that Justice Ginsburg worked so hard to protect," Senate Judiciary Committee senior Democrat Dianne Feinstein said on the Senate Floor on Sunday.
"For those reasons, I oppose her nomination."
Mrs Barrett has been a federal appeals court judge since 2017 and was previously a legal scholar at the University of Notre Dame in Indiana.