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Tensions high but drama largely absent at Barrett’s Senate confirmation

Vote punctuated by standing ovation, dueling masks and a rush for the doors

Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., and Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., left, are seen after a news conference about Amy Coney Barrett's nomination to the Supreme Court last week. The Senate confirmed her nomination Monday.
Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., and Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., left, are seen after a news conference about Amy Coney Barrett's nomination to the Supreme Court last week. The Senate confirmed her nomination Monday. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

There was none of the usual anticipation in the Senate when lawmakers closed out an all-night session following weekend work, voting to confirm Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court in the exact proportion of yeas and nays that has been known for weeks.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell gave the last speech ahead of the vote, facing a packed GOP side of the chamber, with each senator at their desk and the back benches and aisles filled with more than 25 staffers. The Democratic side was empty.

While McConnell spoke, Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer sat in the Democratic cloakroom, visibly glowering and shaking his head through the swinging doors.

The vote was rapid with more than half of the lawmakers seated and ready, faster than any typical Senate vote, particularly the extended voting periods implemented for social distancing during the COVID-19 pandemic.

New Mexico Democrat Tom Udall was the final lawmaker to cast his vote, waving his arms at the crowd of GOP lawmakers, who responded with lighthearted boos to his nay vote.

When presiding officer Sen. Charles E. Grassley announced the final tally for Barrett’s confirmation, all Republican senators stood for a rousing standing ovation. Two exceptions were Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, who remained seated and straight faced, and Maine’s Susan Collins, the lone Republican to vote again Barrett’s confirmation.

Collins, who is facing a tough reelection bid, exited the chamber in a hurry immediately after casting her vote. Murkowski had voiced opposition to the process and voted against cloture Sunday, but supported final confirmation Monday night.

Shortly after the vote, McConnell walked out of the chamber and gave two thumbs up before heading back to his office.

While there was no question of the outcome, there was more mystery as to who would brave a resurgent COVID-19 outbreak at the White House for a celebration later in the night.

Associate Justice Clarence Thomas is scheduled to administer the oath of office to Barrett at the White House.

Judiciary Chairman Lindsey Graham told reporters he would attend the ceremony and celebration at the White House later Monday evening marking Barrett’s confirmation. Many of his fellow Republican colleagues were noncommittal throughout the day.

A similar event celebrating the announcement of her nomination was deemed a “super-spreader event” by some public health officials and resulted in an outbreak at the White House and in communities around the country where attendees flew home to.

Tim Scott was undecided on the celebration after lunch Monday, but he said it wasn’t concerns about the latest COVID-19 outbreak among Vice President Mike Pence’s staff that gave him pause.

“It’s a pause for, if I can get on a plane going to South Carolina, I’m going to do that,” he said.

Plenty planned to head to the airport instead of the White House following the vote.

“I’m trying to go home,” said Richard C. Shelby.

Deb Fischer is also heading straight home, but will attend a Trump rally in Omaha later this week.

The COVID risk is keeping Lisa Murkowski away from the White House.

“We all make our own decisions, but I just came from yet another COVID test, I’ve had my nose hosed so many times because I’m going to Alaska tomorrow and we just had doubling of our cases,” Murkowski said. “I don’t want to be bringing back anything nasty from here.”

She even took on the role of presiding officer, managing the final floor actions, as her colleagues piled onto buses to head to the White House.

The White House announced ahead of the ceremony that the seated audience would be socially distanced and that masks would be required for all those in attendance, public health best practices that were notably absent from the nomination announcement.

Dueling masks

Some senators showed their support and opposition to the nomination with judicial themed masks.

Sens. Mazie K. Hirono, Amy Klobuchar and other Democrats have been sporting Ruth Bader Ginsburg masks, with her likeness and her dissent collars, for weeks. Barrett takes the seat once held by the liberal icon, who died last month.

They wore the masks at the confirmation hearings and at the press conference while they protested the committee vote. But during the weekend sessions and Monday’s vote, Republicans showed up with their own Amy Coney Barrett masks.

Todd Young said one of his staffers found one for him online that had the nominee’s name in large letters, and Marsha Blackburn sported a “Grin and Barrett” mask, showing her support.

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