WASHINGTON ― Republicans are making it very clear that they won’t agree to replace Dianne Feinstein on the Senate Judiciary Committee, deepening Democrats’ dilemma over the absence of the ailing California Democrat.
The 89-year-old senator last week requested that she be temporarily replaced on the powerful panel while she recovers from a bout of shingles that has kept her away from Washington for nearly two months. Such a maneuver would require bipartisan support, but Republicans aren’t willing to give it on the grounds that it would help Democrats confirm more of President Joe Biden’s judicial nominees.
“I don’t think Republicans can or should help President Biden’s most controversial nominees,” Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas), a member of the Judiciary Committee, said Monday. “This effort to confirm controversial and in many instances largely unqualified nominees, I don’t think you can expect any Republican cooperation.”
Sen. Thom Tillis (R-N.C.), another member of the panel, tweeted: “I deeply respect Senator Feinstein, but this is an unprecedented request solely intended to appease those pushing for radical, activist judges.”
Feinstein’s absence in a 51-49 Senate has already stalled the confirmation of some of Biden’s judicial nominees, which the committee is responsible for processing. A lengthier vacancy on the committee could not only thwart Democrats’ efforts to reshape the judiciary, but it could also stymie legislation.
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) told reporters on Monday that he spoke with Feinstein and that, although “she hopes to be back soon,” Republicans should agree to appoint her temporary replacement.
“Tomorrow this could happen to the Republicans… she’s in a delicate part of her life and her Senate service. They should stand by her and give her a dignified departure,” added Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), who chairs the Judiciary Committee.
However, it’s evident that GOP senators won’t extend any senatorial courtesy in this case. Even moderate Susan Collins of Maine, who hailed Feinstein a “trailblazing” senator, said she was opposed to a temporary replacement.
“During the past two years, there has been a concerted campaign to force her off the committee. I think that’s wrong and I won’t be part of that,” Collins said, alluding to concerns expressed privately by Democrats about Feinstein’s mental acuity in recent years.
It’s unclear at this point if Democrats will try to push through Feinstein’s replacement ― a parliamentary maneuver that would eat up valuable floor time ― given broad GOP opposition. Of course, if Feinstein is able to return sooner than expected, the issue would be moot for now, at least.
Democrats appear divided over how to handle Feinstein’s absence. Some progressives, including Rep. Ro Khanna (D-Calif.), have called for her to retire early before her planned end-of-2024 date in order to allow Biden to confirm judicial nominees. The fate of abortion rights and LGBT rights in the federal courts are too important for any single person, they’ve argued.
Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), who also sits on the Judiciary Committee, said that Democrats have many crucial votes coming up, including on the debt ceiling, that would require the California senator’s presence.
“If this goes on month after month after month, then she’s going to have to make a decision with her family and her friends about what her future holds because this isn’t just about California, it’s also about the nation,” Klobuchar told ABC’s “This Week.”
But other Democratic senators haven’t backed calls for Feinstein to step down.
“The decision about whether somebody should resign rests on that individual themselves,” Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) told MSNBC’s “Inside With Jen Psaki” Sunday. “I don’t think she should be forced out.”
“We believe a senator should be able to make their own judgments about when they’re retiring,” added Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) during a Sunday interview on CNN’s “State of the Union. “She has the right, in my opinion, to decide when she steps down.”