Nearly two weeks after Republicans gathered at the White House to celebrate President Trump’s third nominee to the Supreme Court at a ceremony that quickly became connected to a cluster of positive coronavirus cases, Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah)—one of the at least 11 people who tested positive after attending the September 26 event—returned to Capitol Hill on Monday to appear in-person for Amy Coney Barrett’s confirmation hearing.
Lee declined to wear a mask while giving his opening remarks. He was seen closely talking to other members of the Senate Judiciary Committee, including chairman Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), whose own refusal to take a coronavirus test prompted the cancellation of a primary debate with his Democratic challenger, Jamie Harrison, on Friday. (A doctor’s note purporting to clear Lee’s appearance on Capitol Hill confirmed that he had developed symptoms, “including remaining but improving fatigue” over the last week.)
Despite his close contact with a recently-infected Trump, White House chief of staff Mark Meadows refused to engage with reporters unless they agreed to speak with him while he was maskless. “I’m more than 10 feet away,” Meadows said, appearing to mock social-distancing concerns before storming away from a group of Capitol Hill journalists. “I’m not going to talk to the press.”
Mike Lee is in the hearing room and chatting with Graham pic.twitter.com/EKT2vnCtnv
— Igor Bobic (@igorbobic) October 12, 2020
Mike Lee making an opening statement pic.twitter.com/qPdgIfGE19
— Steven Dennis (@StevenTDennis) October 12, 2020
Video of Capitol Hill reporters insisting WH Chief of Staff Mark Meadows wear a mask while talking with them and Meadows deciding he won’t talk to reporters if he has to wear a mask. pic.twitter.com/kDX10BLDnk
— Yamiche Alcindor (@Yamiche) October 12, 2020
The reckless actions came as Democrats blasted Republicans for ignoring precedent and potential coronavirus safety issues to jam through Barrett’s nomination so she can be seated in time to hear a challenge seeking to invalidate the Affordable Care Act. That case, which the high court is slated to hear just one week after the election, would kick more than 20 million people off their health insurance in the middle of a pandemic that’s killed more than 210,000 people in the United States. It’s against this prospect of destroying the ACA that Republicans—from the president to Lee—appear emboldened to resume public events, potentially risking the lives of those around them.