In swearing in Barrett, Trump defiantly mimics ‘superspreader’ Rose Garden ceremony
By Peter Baker
President Donald Trump, who loves to boast of doing anything his predecessors have never done, pulled off such a historic first Monday. He won confirmation of a Supreme Court justice only eight days before a presidential election, rushing his choice through the Senate before voters decide whether to give him four more years or kick him out of office.
Trump then did something else no other president has done. He hosted a nighttime ceremony on the White House lawn to swear in Justice Amy Coney Barrett in a virtual do-over of the superspreader event blamed for infecting multiple people with the coronavirus a month ago to the day, including the president himself, who was forced to spend three nights in the hospital.
To Trump, the first history-maker outweighed the second, a chance to celebrate a landmark political victory regardless of the risk. It was, in effect, the triumph of defiance over experience, a stubborn gesture by a president who refuses to acknowledge the continuing threat of a pandemic that has killed more than 225,000 people in the United States even after it has swept through his own circle of aides, advisers and allies. Undaunted and unbowed, Trump hosted the event even as five people working for Vice President Mike Pence have tested positive in recent days.
This time, at least, the White House made some concessions to the virus. Unlike the Rose Garden event on Sept. 26 when Trump announced his nomination of Barrett, apparently leading to a raft of infections, the ceremony Monday night marking her confirmation was held on the roomier South Lawn, with folding chairs seated several feet apart and guests required to wear masks.
Neither Trump nor Barrett wore masks, perhaps owing to the fact that both have already had the virus and therefore presumably could be immune. Melania Trump, the first lady, who also was infected after the last event, likewise attended without a mask. Justice Clarence Thomas, who was on hand to swear in his new colleague, wore no mask either, even though he is not known to have been previously infected. None of the other seven justices attended.
Neither the president nor the new justice made any reference to the virus or what happened the last time the two gathered supporters at the White House. Instead, they congratulated themselves on the superquick confirmation process that has now put her on the court just in time to rule on any of Trump’s challenges emerging from next week’s election.
Trump praised Barrett’s “deep knowledge, tremendous poise and towering intellect,” calling her a suitable replacement for Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, the liberal stalwart who died last month, even though she is the ideological polar opposite.
“It is highly fitting that Justice Barrett fills the seat of a true pioneer for women, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg,” the president told the crowd. “Tonight, Justice Barrett becomes not only the fifth woman to serve on our nation’s highest court, but the very first mother of school-aged children to become a Supreme Court justice.”
Barrett, 48, who has seven children, will be the current court’s youngest member, its third woman, its sixth Catholic and its only jurist from outside the Ivy League. A graduate of Notre Dame Law School, where she later taught, she has served on the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals since Trump appointed her in 2017 and has become a favorite of conservatives. Her appointment to the Supreme Court was Trump’s third, the most any president has had in a single term since Richard Nixon and an important credential for Republican voters who care about the judiciary.
In her own remarks Monday, Barrett, whose short-sleeve black dress contrasted with the president’s heavy, black overcoat on a crisp, 55-degree evening, referred to the speedy Senate approval as “a rigorous confirmation process,” a characterization Democrats strenuously disputed.
But she seemed intent on sending the message that she would not simply do Trump’s bidding, using the words “independent” or “independence” three times, even though he has said explicitly that he wanted her seated before the election so she could lend her vote in case of a legal dispute over the balloting.
“A judge declares independence not only from the Congress and the president but also from the private beliefs that might otherwise move her,” Barrett said after being sworn in. “The oath I have solemnly taken tonight,” she added, “means at its core that I will do my job without any fear or favor and that I will do so independently of both the political branches and of my own preferences.”
Neither Democrats nor Republicans seemed to believe that, instead commending or condemning her confirmation as a victory for conservatives and a defeat for liberals. Her replacement of Ginsburg means that the conservative wing now controls the Supreme Court 6-3, heralding a new era of jurisprudence not only on the forthcoming election, but on hot-button issues like abortion, gay rights and health care.
The nomination ceremony a month ago undercut the political message Trump wanted to send when he, Trump and others who were in attendance later tested positive for the coronavirus. Trump emerged from his sickness as uncowed as ever, insisting that the virus could be beaten and telling Americans not to let it dominate their lives.
Many of those who were infected that day stayed away Monday night. Among those who were back for more was Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, who tested positive for the virus after the announcement ceremony where he had gone maskless and hugged others in the crowd. “Tonight’s vote was a huge win for the American people,” Lee said on Twitter without referring to the virus.
Democrats were flabbergasted that the White House would replicate the event a month later.
“They shame mask wearing,” Sen. Christopher S. Murphy, D-Conn., said on Twitter earlier in the day. “They hold super spreader events daily. They discourage testing. They pretend like a vaccine is days away so that people will let down their guard. The biggest threat to America’s public health isn’t the virus, it’s the Trump White House.”