Vice President Mike Pence may not preside over the Senate's confirmation of Amy Coney Barrett on Monday night, due to the coronavirus outbreak among his staff. At least five people close to Pence have tested positive for COVID-19, and Democrats have been urging Pence not to attend the Senate's Supreme Court confirmation and risk further spread. According to a report by Politico, Pence may comply.
An aide on Pence's staff told reporters: "Vice President Pence is campaigning in Minnesota today. The VP is not planning to be at the Senate tonight unless his vote is needed." Pence might have served a political purpose at Monday night's confirmation — to break a tie in the vote for Barrett — but since that will likely not be necessary, he plans to abstain. Republicans need 51 votes to confirm Barrett, so multiple Republican senators would need to absent for Pence's vote to make a difference. At the time of this writing, 52 senators are expected to vote in Barrett's favor, all Republicans.
Meanwhile, this allows Pence to be seen apparently complying with the wishes of his mostly Democratic critics, who say that he should not attend the Senate and risk infecting more people with COVID-19. At least five people in Pence's inner circle have now contracted the virus, including his chief of staff Marc Short. While Pence himself has tested negative, the tests are not always reliable, and the virus can have a prolonged incubation period, in some cases.
Pence will not completely escape criticism by skipping the Senate hearing, as he is still putting others at risk out on the campaign trail. Pence attended two rallies in Florida on Saturday, in spite of the positive tests in his staff, and he was seen getting off of a crowded airplane without a mask on for one of the events.
Pence's staff is "scared," insiders told The New York Times. Like the rest of the White House, they do not observe many of the coronavirus safety measures prescribed by public health officials, including face masks, social distancing and plexiglass barriers in the workplace. In addition, sources said that President Donald Trump's chief of staff, Mark Meadows, tried hard it keep the news of positive tests in Pence's staff from going public, but failed.
"We're not going to control the pandemic," Meadows said bluntly on Sunday, during an interview on CNN's State of the Union. "We are going to control the fact that we get vaccines, therapeutics and other mitigations because it is a contagious virus — just like the flu."
The Senate will vote on Barrett's Supreme Court nomination on Monday night, and if Pence's vote is needed, he will have to be there by 7 p.m. ET to cast it.