Our political theater of the bizarre may be preparing to get even stranger, assuming that’s still somehow possible. How would you react if you turned on C-SPAN to watch an important vote in the Senate and saw one of the members of the upper chamber on the Senate floor wearing a spacesuit? While it may not be a literal spacesuit from the Apollo moon landing days, something close to that may be happening later this month.
As you may recall, Wisconsin Senator Ron Johnson (R) recently tested positive for the novel coronavirus, leading to his decision to self-quarantine. But with the Supreme Court confirmation hearings for Amy Coney Barrett looming on the horizon, every Republican vote will be required to place her on the nation’s highest court. Johnson is well aware of this and does not plan to let a little thing like the plague keep him from completing his Constitutional duties. If he’s still testing positive when the time comes, the Senator vows to “wear a moon suit” if necessary so he can cast his vote without infecting his fellow senators. (Associated Press)
Shuttered by COVID-19 infections, the Republican-led Senate is refusing to delay confirmation of President Donald Trump’s pick for the Supreme Court. They are even willing to make special arrangements so sick senators can vote for Judge Amy Coney Barrett, and Democrats appear powerless to stop them.
Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wis., said Monday that he’ll go to the Capitol “in a moon suit” to vote if he’s still testing positive for the coronavirus, which has killed more than 209,000 Americans and infected millions.
The push to put conservative Judge Amy Coney Barrett on the high court before Nov. 3 is like nothing seen in U.S. history so close to a presidential election. Trump’s nomination of Barrett in a Rose Garden ceremony apparently became ground zero for the infections now gripping the president, his White House and its Senate allies.
I would say that this situation will further enrage Chuck Schumer and the Senate Democrats, but I’m not sure they could be any more enraged than they already are. Of course, that won’t stop them from complaining.
No details have been worked out, but Johnson’s suggested plan really isn’t as crazy as it might sound. As Tom Cotton pointed out when asked for a comment, there’s a long tradition of members “being wheeled in to cast critical votes” if they were facing medical difficulties. One of the more famous examples was when Congresswoman Gabby Giffords was wheeled into the House for a vote as she recovered from being shot in 2011.
Johnson’s situation is more complicated than some of the other members. Since he’s on the Judiciary Committee, he needs to be involved in the first vote to send Coney Barrett’s nomination to the floor for a full vote. He will be allowed to participate in the committee hearings remotely, but the rules require him to be in the chamber for the actual vote. The same applies to all of the infected senators, also including Mike Lee and Thom Tillis, when it comes to the full Senate vote.
One interesting suggestion that’s been put forward involves making sure the chamber is otherwise empty and allowing the Senators who have tested positive to cast their votes from the visitor galleries on the upper level. That would keep them well away from the rest of the members. The Senate rules only say that the members must be “present” in the chamber to cast their votes. They don’t specify where they should be standing or sitting.
Since an actual Apollo spacesuit is unlikely to be available (not to mention impractical), what sort of protection for the rest of the members would be effective? A full biohazard suit seems like it would be a bit of overkill, but surely this is doable. After all, doctors and nurses work with infected patients all over the world on a daily basis. That same sort of surgical PPE, including not only a gown, gloves, and masks, but also some sort of eye coverage or a face shield should be good enough. There are a couple of doctors in the Senate. Perhaps one of them could weigh in on this.
Does all of this seem a bit extreme? Of course it does. But what other choice is there? There is still a very real possibility that Joe Biden could win the presidency (God help us all) and if Coney Barrett isn’t installed on the Supreme Court by then, that seat could slip away to a radically liberal justice for the next generation. The clock is already ticking on Clarence Thomas, though hopefully, his health will remain robust for years to come. But the seat formerly held by the Notorious RBG is going to be critical going forward.