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Here's what to expect at Amy Coney Barrett's Supreme Court confirmation hearings and who to watch for

WASHINGTON – Though Amy Coney Barrett appears to have the support in the Senate to be confirmed to the Supreme Court, her historic confirmation hearings this week offer Democrat and Republican senators the chance to question the appeals court judge in front of a national audience weeks before a contentious election.

The hearings in the Senate Judiciary Committee – tasked with vetting Barrett’s background and stance on issues that could come before the high court – could be key for a number of senators before November, including vice presidential candidate Kamala Harris, who sits on the panel.

The coronavirus will play a role, altering how the hearings operate and threatening to derail Republicans' tight deadline to confirm Barrett before Election Day, which is three weeks away.

Three Republican senators contracted the virus since President Donald Trump tested positive – including two members of the Senate Judiciary Committee, which could affect a vote on the panel and in the full Senate. Republicans appear to have locked in a majority to push through her nomination; only two have voiced opposition to moving forward before the election. But if senators remain ill or more contract the disease, making them unable to travel to Washington and vote on the Senate floor, her confirmation could be postponed. 

Democrats pushed to postpone the hearings, given the outbreak, which has infected about 20 people in Trump’s orbit. Democrats tried to pressure Republicans for weeks to halt the nomination process until after the election to let voters have a say in the process. Their hope is Democrat Joe Biden defeats Trump and Democrats regain a majority in the Senate. 

GOP leaders have their eyes set on quickly confirming Barrett, who could give the high court a conservative bent for decades – and Democrats conceded there's little they can do to stop them.

Here is what to expect during the hearings and what to watch for as they begin Monday at 9 a.m. EDT.

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Each day  

The four days of hearings planned in the Senate Judiciary Committee are consistent with past proceedings for Supreme Court picks, even though Republicans are pushing through Barrett’s full nomination at a quicker pace than other high court nominees.  

Four hearings are scheduled, though the panel could add meetings, especially if a hiccup is discovered in Barrett’s past that requires further vetting. Additional hearings were scheduled for Trump’s last Supreme Court pick, Brett Kavanaugh, in 2018 after sexual assault allegations surfaced, which Kavanaugh denied.  

•Monday: The day will consist of opening remarks from Barrett and all 22 senators on the committee – 12 Republicans and 10 Democrats. Chairman Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., will start, followed by Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., then Barrett, followed by the other 20 members.

•Tuesday: This is when the hearings are likely to heat up. Senators will question Barrett on her career and her position on issues that could come before the court, including health care, guns, abortion and religion. Each senator will have about 20 minutes to question Barrett.  

•Wednesday: The panel could offer two or three rounds of questioning after each senator has 20 minutes.  

•Thursday: Senators are expected to hear from outside witnesses who know Barrett and will vouch for her career and service. The names of these witnesses and how they know Barrett have yet to be released.  

The committee won’t vote until after it holds Barrett’s nomination for one week, a common practice by the panel. The committee vote is expected around Oct. 22 and is likely to split along party lines, 12-10. Then her nomination will go to the full Senate, where she'll need at least a majority to be confirmed to the high court. 

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Things will look different  

Typically, hearings vetting a Supreme Court nominee feature dozens of reporters in a crowded room filled with lawmakers, staff and members of the public – which sometimes leads to protests in the chamber.  

That won’t be the scene this week because of the coronavirus pandemic. Only one staff member per senator will be allowed into the room, very few administration officials are expected and only a small group of reporters will be allowed inside to witness the hearings, according to a Capitol Hill aide familiar with the plans who requested anonymity to discuss preparations for the event.  

The dais where senators sit for the hearings has been reconfigured. The architect of the Capitol constructed a second full dais to allow for social distancing, so senators would not have to sit in close proximity, the aide said.  

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Throughout the room, stations will be set up with PPE (personal protective equipment), including gloves, hand sanitizer and other cleaning equipment. Each senator will have his or her own station with wipes, hand sanitizer, paper towels and a trash can, according to two Capitol Hill aides who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss the committee's planning and safety precautions. 

Senators will have the option to participate in the hearings virtually, something that has become common on Capitol Hill amid the pandemic, though Democrats criticized the idea during such a high-profile event, stressing the need to question Barrett in person. 

Two Republican members of the panel – Sens. Thom Tillis of North Carolina and Mike Lee of Utah – tested positive for COVID-19. Though both senators vowed to quarantine and said they'd be back in Washington for the hearings, they could participate virtually should they remain COVID-19-positive or still have symptoms. 

Senators to watch this week 

The Senate Judiciary Committee's members include a vice presidential candidate and eight senators facing reelection battles, including Republicans whose races could determine what party controls the majority in the Senate. 

•Kamala Harris: The California Democrat will take a break from the campaign trail as Joe Biden's vice presidential candidate to take part in the four days of hearings. Harris' questioning of Kavanaugh in 2018 was pivotal in boosting her profile and helped launch her candidacy for president. 

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•Thom Tillis: The North Carolina Republican faces a tough reelection battle against Democrat Cal Cunningham, and his performance during the hearings could influence whether voters will let him keep his Senate seat next month. Cunningham held a roughly 3-percentage-point lead over Tillis in an Emerson College poll, but Cunningham admitted sending sexual texts to a woman not his wife. The Associated Press reported Cunningham had sexual relations with the woman. Tillis said he supports moving forward with Barrett's nomination despite the proximity to Election Day, but his participation in the hearings is up in the air after he tested positive for COVID-19 on Oct. 2. 

•Joni Ernst: The Iowa Republican is running a tight race against Democrat Theresa Greenfield. A Des Moines Register/Mediacom Iowa Poll released last month showed Ernst, a first-term senator, down by 3 percentage points. Ernst also said she supports moving forward with Barrett's nomination despite criticism that it's too close to  the election. 

•Lindsey Graham: The South Carolina Republican who heads the committee is trying to fend off a challenge by Democrat Jaime Harrison. He has been the target of criticism over backtracking on his vow to not bring forward a Supreme Court nominee if the primary process had started in the 2020 election. In the days since his reversal, Graham pleaded for fundraising help and said Harrison was crushing him on campaign donations. In August, a Quinnipiac University poll found the two candidates nearly tied, and a Morning Consult poll showed Graham ahead by 1 point. The race has been closer than expected since Trump won the state by 14 points. 

•Dianne Feinstein: The California Democrat will run the show for Democrats in the hearings, a role she also held during the Kavanaugh hearings in 2018. Having spent nearly three decades in the Senate, Feinstein will be tasked with leading Democrats on the panel in expressing what is at stake if Barrett is confirmed to the high court. Liberals have highlighted abortion rights, gun control and health care, including a case set to be heard by the high court days after Election Day that could decide the fate of the Affordable Care Act.