Utah Senator speaks maskless at SCOTUS hearing 10 days after confirming coronavirus infection

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Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, speaks during the confirmation hearing for Supreme Court nominee Amy Coney Barrett at the Senate Judiciary Committee on Capitol Hill in Washington, Monday, Oct. 12, 2020. (Greg Nash/Pool via AP)

WASHINGTON (Nexstar) – Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) was not among the members of the Senate Judiciary Committee who felt they needed to virtually attend Supreme Court Confirmation hearings for Judge Amy Coney Barrett on Monday to prevent the spread of coronavirus.

Lee publicly confirmed on October 2nd that he had contracted the virus, but he elected to attend the in person hearings and speak without a mask on Monday.

The two-term senator released a doctor’s letter Monday saying he no longer needs to be in isolation for COVID-19, allowing him to join the live hearings.

He was seen wearing a blue surgical mask while entering the hearing chambers, but he removed the covering in order to make his remarks.

Senator Cory Booker (D-New Jersey) was among those to question the Lee’s participation so recently after testing positive.

To bolster the justification for his decision to attend, the Utah Republican posted the letter from the Attending Physician of Congress, Dr. Brian Monahan. The letter says, “Based on current CDC guidelines, you have met criteria to end COVID-19 isolation for those with mild to moderate disease.”

The doctor says Lee reported “remaining but improving fatigue” but has had no fever for at least 24 hours. He says Lee reported on Sunday that “other symptoms have improved.” The letter notes it has been more than 10 days “since symptom onset.”

He used his time to praise the Supreme Court as an institution.

The Senate Judiciary Committee, meeting on a federal holiday, kicked off four days of statements and testimony in an environment that has been altered by the coronavirus pandemic. Some senators were taking part remotely, and the hearing room itself was arranged with health concerns in mind.

Lee and Sen. Thom Tillis of North Carolina are among those who tested positive for the virus Oct. 2 after attending the Sept. 26 Rose Garden event announcing President Donald Trump’s nomination of Barrett. Tillis is attending the Judiciary hearings remotely.

There had been some media speculation that continued fallout among GOP senators could put the aggressive confirmation timeline at risk, but the attendance of the two committee members suggests that scenario is unlikely.

Republicans want Barrett confirmed before the presidential election. Democratic vice presidential nominee and Sen. Kamala Harris says Republicans are trying to “ram through” Barrett. Harris, who also sits on the committee, chose to attend the hearing remotely.

Barring a dramatic development, Republicans appear to have the votes to confirm Barrett to a lifetime seat on the Supreme Court. If she is confirmed quickly she could be on the Supreme Court when it hears the latest challenge to the Affordable Care Act, a week after the election.

One after another, Democrats sought to tie her nomination to the upcoming court case.

“Health care coverage for millions of Americans is at stake with this nomination,” said Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California, the committee’s senior Democrat.

Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I., said the nomination is a “judicial torpedo aimed” at the law’s protection for people with pre-existing health conditions among its provisions. The Trump administration wants the court to strike down the entire law popularly known as “Obamacare” on Nov. 10. Barrett has criticized the court’s two earlier major rulings supporting the law.

Among Republicans, Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, dismissed warnings Barrett will undo the Obama-era healthcare law as “outrageous.”

Trump himself seemed to be watching, tweeting several times about the hearing. In one message, he tweeted that he’d have a “FAR BETTER” health care plan, with lower costs and protections for pre-existing conditions. But he has not, as yet, discussed an actual health care plan.

Republicans also warned against making Barrett’s Catholicism an issue in the confirmation debate, especially in regard to her stance on abortion, with Sen. Josh Hawley of Missouri lambasting what he called a “pattern and practice of religious bigotry” by Democrats. However, Democratic senators made clear in advance of the hearing that they didn’t plan to question the judge on the specifics of her religious faith.

Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden, also a practicing Catholic, told reporters ahead of a campaign trip to Ohio that he doesn’t think “there’s any question about her faith.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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