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Pence unlikely to attend Barrett vote after aides test positive

Washington — Vice President Mike Pence is unlikely to be in attendance when the Senate holds the final vote to confirm Judge Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court on Monday night, a decision that comes after Senate Democrats urged him to avoid the vote given a COVID-19 outbreak among members of his staff.

White House deputy press secretary Brian Morgenstern told CBS News that Pence is likely not going to be presiding over the Senate's vote, since he is attending campaign events and "was likely to be still on the road" during the proceedings.

The chamber's top Democrats urged Pence to reconsider presiding over the vote after five of his aides recently tested positive for the coronavirus.

Led by Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, Senate Democratic leaders sent Pence a letter Sunday warning him that his attendance would run afoul of guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and would be a "violation of common decency and courtesy."

"Your presence alone could be very dangerous to many people — not just senators, but to all the truly essential staff — both Democratic and Republican — who must be physically present inside the U.S. Capitol for it to function," the Democratic senators wrote. "These men and women are the Capitol Police officers, the custodians, the food service workers, the floor staff, and everyone else that makes the Capitol complex work.  On their behalf, please reconsider your decision to attend tomorrow's vote."

As president of the Senate, Pence had been expected to preside over the vote to confirm Barrett, who was nominated by President Trump to fill the late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg's seat on the high court last month. But five of Pence's aides have tested positive for COVID-19, including his chief of staff Marc Short and his political adviser Marty Obst. A spokesman for the vice president told CBS News that Pence and second lady Karen Pence tested negative for the coronavirus Monday morning.

The prospect of Pence's attendance in light of the infections outraged Senate Democrats, who told the vice president that "nothing about your presence in the Senate tomorrow can be considered essential." 

"You will not need to cast the deciding vote to break a tie," they said in their letter. "Your presence tomorrow would be purely ceremonial."

Earlier Monday, White House chief of staff Mark Meadows told reporters Pence's attendance for the confirmation vote was "in flux." 

Barrett's confirmation is considered imminent, as just 51 votes are needed to approve her nomination to the Supreme Court and Republicans control 53 seats in the Senate. The vote is expected to be nearly along party lines, with Republican Senator Susan Collins of Maine set to join all Democrats in opposing her confirmation.

Meadows said the White House is preparing to hold a swearing-in ceremony for Barrett following the Senate's confirmation vote and said the administration will "be doing the best we can to encourage as much social distancing as possible."

The vote from the Senate comes exactly one month after Mr. Trump announced Barrett as his nominee to the Supreme Court during an event in the Rose Garden, after which several attendees tested positive for COVID-19, including the president and first lady Melania Trump.

Fin Gomez and Gaby Ake contributed to this report.

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