There's been talk since Dianne Feinstein's health-related absence from the Senate this spring that even if she were to retire, Republicans would likely block Democrats' ability to replace her on the Judiciary Committee. And retired Chronicle columnist Andrew Ross agrees, and says she should be hailed as a hero.
There have been loud calls for months to get Senator Feinstein, who turned 90 last week, to retire. She is, unarguably, a shadow of her former self, and she is being propped up by capable aides in a tradition of many elderly senators past and present. A poll last month found that a majority of California voters believe Feinstein is "no longer fit" to serve in the Senate, after she appeared frail and still deeply affected by the side-effects of a shingles infection in February when she returned to the chamber on May 10.
Feinstein's absence brought the Judiciary Committee's work, at least some of it, to a halt — they were able to get a few judicial nominees passed, but anyone vaguely liberal resulted in a tie vote, with Feinstein representing Democrats' one-seat majority on the committee.
But the pundits and talking heads — even some of the most liberal ones who would love to see Feinstein replaced with someone more progressive — have noted ever since her absence that we should not assume Mitch McConnell and his cronies will be play fair and allow for Feinstein to be quickly replaced by another Democrat on the Judiciary Committee.
And that is what Ross (formerly of Matier & Ross fame) is arguing again, in a Chronicle opinion piece today.
"Democratic handwringing aside, Sen. Dianne Feinstein may go down as a party hero in the end for having ignored calls to retire amid obvious signs of her failing health," Ross writes. He adds that he's been in contact with Christine Pelosi, Nancy Pelosi's daughter who has been Feinstein's right hand and something of a spokesperson recently.
Pelosi says, "The best thing for [Feinstein] to do for herself is to step back and not to be hounded by people saying 'When are you going to leave?' But the best thing she can do for the country is to keep voting for President Biden’s judges."
Indeed, the Biden administration has been working diligently to fill empty seats on the federal bench with more liberal-leaning justices, to balance out the wave of conservatives who were ushered in under Trump. And conceivably, Ross argues, Senate Republicans could maneuver to keep Feinstein's committee seat empty until her term ends — effectively calling a halt to all or most of Biden's nominees getting confirmed through January 2025.
"For Feinstein, given the political and media pounding that she is taking in the twilight of her career, could anything be more heroic than finishing out her term?" Ross writes.
Well, it may be the case that Feinstein is doing Democrats some good in remaining in her job, but the decision never seemed to be an altruistic one. Comparisons to Ruth Bader Ginsberg hanging on too long and then dying under a Republican president's watch have been widespread, though not necessarily apt. In this case, while Feinstein's stubbornness in not retiring may be an ego-driven or selfish one, it may also be serving the common good in thwarting Republicans' desire to thwart Biden at every turn. It's not like McConnell will get his majority back if she dies on the job, and by staying where she is, she is frustrating his efforts to be sure.
Top image: U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) sits in a wheel chair as she leaves after a photo session at the U.S. Capitol on Seersucker Thursday, June 8, 2023 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)