While the rumblings shall grow louder in the coming days about Governor Gavin Newsom's potential pick to appoint to Dianne Feinstein's now vacant seat in the Senate, one thing seems certain: Republicans are going to use this vacancy to their advantage however they can.
Wipe away those tears, Mitch McConnell. The Senate Minority Leader spoke this morning on the Senate floor about his close friend Dianne Feinstein, and he recalled wistfully the "many dinners" he and his wife Elaine had shared with "Dianne and Dick." Now, McConnell and his cohort will have another chance to obstruct democracy by potentially blocking Democrats from filling Feinstein's tie-breaking seat on the Senate Judiciary Committee.
Earlier this year, McConnell and the top Republican on the committee, Sen. Lindsay Graham, refused to let a temporary replacement be put in Feinstein's committee seat during her extended absence due to a shingles infection.
"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 said at the time, referring to judicial nominations that were being blocked by tie votes.
And Graham said at the time that the issue was just "about four or five judges they can’t get out of the committee… They want to replace Dianne Feinstein’s seat for the judges."
Pessimists on the Democratic side assume that McConnell — who remains Villain #1 after his willful obstruction of Merrick Garland's nomation to the Supreme Court following the death of Antonin Scalia — will find more dirty ways to obstruct the Democratic majority on the committee, and keep liberals off the federal bench.
As one commenter on X put it today, "Pres. Biden’s ability to confirm federal judges will be severely curtailed. An RBG-level disaster."
This possibility of Republican obstruction was raised whenever a call was made for Feinstein to resign and retire. "If she does resign and the governor, I guess me, appoints someone, we may not get another federal judge out of the Judiciary Committee," said Newsom just a few months back.
Now, though, as the Chronicle reports, Republicans' tone has changed in the wake of a death of such a prominent colleague.
When asked about seating a committee replacement this morning, Graham said, "Whatever the rules are, that’s what I’ll do."
And another Republican on the committee, Senator John Cornyn of Texas, said Friday, "I think it’s the prerogative of the Democratic leader to put who he wants on the Judiciary Committee, so I don’t think that’s an issue. I don’t think it should be handled any differently than filling any other vacancy. The problem was there wasn’t a true vacancy before."
That is heartening, but we'll have to see it to believe it.
In the short term, Feinstein's absence is unlikely to matter for Senate votes on spending bills.
Top image: U.S. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) arrives at a news briefing after a weekly Senate Republican policy luncheon at the U.S. Capitol on September 27, 2023 in Washington, DC. Senate GOPs held their weekly luncheon to discuss the Republican agenda. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)