WASHINGTON – Senate Democrats on Sunday lodged harsh criticisms at Vice President Mike Pence who plans to preside over the chamber during a vote on Amy Coney Barrett's confirmation to the Supreme Court despite several of his top aides contracting COVID-19.
News broke Saturday evening that Pence's Chief of Staff, Marc Short, had tested positive for the disease. The New York Times and CNN reported that four other people in Pence's orbit had tested positive for the virus, bringing the total to at least five.
Pence, who runs the White House's coronavirus task force and has since tested negative for the virus, had planned to preside over the Senate floor Monday when the chamber votes on Barrett's confirmation to the high court. Barrett is expected to be confirmed despite Democratic complaints of her appointment happening just eight days before Election Day.
As vice president, Pence is the president of the Senate and may cast votes when needed in a tie. He and Barrett both hold strong Indiana ties as Pence served as the state's governor and Barrett lives and works there as a professor at the University of Notre Dame.
"As vice president, I’m president of the Senate. And I’m gonna be in the chair because I wouldn’t miss that vote for the world," Pence told supporters at a rally Saturday evening in Florida as news broke of the coronavirus infections. "And I‘ll make you a prediction. Come this Monday night, Judge Amy Coney Barrett is going to be Justice Amy Coney Barrett. We’re gonna fill that seat."
Pence's office did not immediately respond to inquires about whether his plans had changed due to aides testing positive for COVID-19, but the vice president is not planning to curtail his travel or movements in the aftermath of the infections. He has an event scheduled in North Carolina on Sunday and South Carolina on Tuesday.
The plans drew harsh criticism from Democrats but Republicans mostly shrugged off Pence coming to Capitol Hill, explaining they were sure the vice president would do so responsibly.
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., railed against Pence's plans and said the visit would put "the health of everyone who works in this building at risk," noting that Pence should quarantine as CDC guidelines dictate.
"It sets a terrible, terrible example for the American people," Schumer said on the Senate floor Sunday. "And nothing could be a more apt metaphor for what is going on here. The Republican Party is willing to ignore the pandemic to rush this Supreme Court nomination forward. And the Vice President, after potentially being exposed to COVID, will preside."
Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont., said he thought Pence planning to be at the Capitol was "absolutely irresponsible" as parts of the nation, including Washington, are seeing surges in the number of COVID-19 cases.
"It's blowing up all over the country and these guys still act like, 'Well, what the hell, it's only 1% of the people who are going to die or something,'" Tester said. "It's just insane, just totally irresponsible."
Some Republicans, however, said Pence was still welcome to the Capitol on Monday and shrugged off concerns.
Sen. Mike Rounds, R-S.D., said he trusted Pence to preside in the chamber responsibly.
"Mike's responsibility is to be here to preside over the Senate. I think the vice president will follow his duties and I think he'll do that safely. Most certainly, I think he's a very responsible individual and I think he will do it according to the best practices as recommended by the physician," Rounds told reporters on Sunday. "I feel comfortable that we've done a very good job within the Senate to follow the guidelines as best we can, and I think the Vice President will do the same time."
Fellow Republican Sen. Mike Braun of Indiana said he believes it's safe for Pence to visit the Capitol but he should "do it with all the experts' guidelines in mind."
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell ignored questions by reporters about whether Pence should come to the Capitol. McConnell's office referred questions about Pence to the vice president's office.
Contributing: Maureen Groppe
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Dems decry Pence plan to preside over Barrett vote amid COVID outbreak