In a move that is bound to raise the pressure on Dianne Feinstein to do the proverbial thing or get off the pot, Senate Republicans on Monday scoffed at the idea that they would allow a temporary Democratic replacement to assume Dianne Feinstein's seat on a key committee.
A year after talk first ramped up concerning California Senator Dianne Feinstein's advancing age and occasional cognitive impairments, the talk is ramping again and even further about her resigning her seat. The recent rumblings from Democrats — so far just two in the House, but plenty more who aren't in Congress are speaking to the press — come following a report on Feinstein's health status, and her lengthy absence from Washington.
Feinstein has been convalescing in San Francisco for more than six weeks after a case of shingles, and she is still not well enough to return to the Senate this week as they return from recess. Her absence throughout the month of March stymied some votes on judicial nominees in the Senate Judiciary Committee, of which she's been a part since 1994. Thus she asked last week for Majority Leader Chuck Schumer to assign a temporary replacement for her on the committee.
Feinstein was the first woman ever to serve on this committee, which in its history has never had a female chair. Had it not been for her advanced age and well documented gentility during the confirmation hearings of Justice Amy Coney Barrett, she might have been the committee's first chair — however she relinquished her Ranking Member status when Biden took office in 2021, under pressure from progressives. Feinstein had been ranking member of the committee since 2017. Her colleague Dick Durbin (D-IL) is now chairing the committee.
"I’m anxious, because I can’t really have a markup of new judge nominees until she’s there," Durbin said, speaking to Politico last month. The committee is traditionally divided between the parties, with the majority party holding the tie-breaking seat. And, as Durbin has said of these nominees, "a tie vote is a losing vote."
With a divided senate and the Dems holding just a two-seat majority, Feinstein's absence along with the ongoing absence of John Fetterman of Pennsylvania has made for some tied votes in the full Senate last month that had to be broken by Vice President Kamala Harris.
In response to Feinstein's request for a temporary Democratic replacement on the Judiciary Committee, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell — himself sidelined for several weeks after a fall last month — has said he will never authorize such a thing.
"Senate Republicans will not take part in sidelining a temporarily absent colleague off a committee just so Democrats can force through their very worst nominees," McConnell told reporters Tuesday.
Calling Feinstein a "titanic figure" and a "dear friend," McConnell told NPR that any move to seat a temporary committee member was "extremely unusual." He added, "The far left wants the full Senate to move a Senator off a full committee so they can ram through a small sliver of nominees who are especially extreme or especially unqualified."
Schumer tells the New York Times, "I spoke to Senator Feinstein just last Friday. She and I are very hopeful she’ll return soon."
Others on both sides of the aisle expressed their support for Feinstein, with Sen. Mazie Hirono (D-HI), who also sits on the Judiciary Committee, telling NPR, "I hope she comes back soon. I respect her a lot."
Republican Senator Susan Collins told NPR that Feinstein has "been an extraordinary senator and she's a good friend of mine. During the past two years, there's been a concerted campaign to force her off of the Judiciary committee and I will have no part of that."
The calls for Feinstein's complete resignation from the Senate, which she seems unlikely to heed barring further illness, have come from South Bay Rep. Ro Khanna — who is leading the campaign to get his colleague Barbara Lee elected to Feinstein's seat — and Minnesota Rep. Dean Phillips.
As Cal Matters reminds us, if Feinstein were to retire early, Governor Gavin Newsom pledged two years ago that if he had a second Senate seat to fill, he would appoint a Black woman. This was in reponse to criticism over the fact that he did not replace the only Black woman serving in the Senate, VP Kamala Harris, with a Black woman, but with his longtime ally Alex Padilla.
Barbara Lee, though, may be too far to the left of Newsom to win his love — but we'll see! An early poll by the UC Berkeley Institute of Governmental Studies found that announced candidates Adam Schiff and Katie Porter would be neck-and-neck in a statewide election, with Lee trailing.
Top image: Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) speaks during a news conference following the Senate Republican weekly policy luncheons at the U.S. Capitol Building on April 18, 2023 in Washington, DC. McConnell participated in his first news conference with reporters since recovering from a concussion and a fractured rib from a fall at a Washington hotel. (Photo by Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images)