Dianne Feinstein To Give Up Judiciary Committee Seat Amid Calls For Her Resignation

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Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) said she will temporarily give up her seat on the Senate Judiciary Committee, announcing her decision hours after her fellow California Democrat, Rep. Ro Khanna, called on her Wednesday to resign.

Feinstein, who at 89 is the oldest member of the Senate, drew criticism from some Democrats who noted that her absence from the Senate for nearly two months, after being hospitalized for shingles treatment in early March, has contributed to a confirmation slowdown of President Biden’s judicial nominees. She has not cast a vote since announcing that she will not run for reelection in 2024.

In a statement released Wednesday night, Feinstein provided no timeline for her return to the Capitol, which she said “has been delayed due to continued complications related to my diagnosis.” She said she planned to “work from home” until her medical team said it was safe for her to travel.

But Feinstein conceded that her absence could “delay” the work of the powerful Judiciary Committee, which she once was poised to chair.

“So I’ve asked Leader Schumer to ask the Senate to allow another Democratic senator to temporarily serve until I’m able to resume my committee work,” Feinstein said.

A spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) said he would ask the Senate next week to temporarily replace Feinstein on the committee.

Most committee assignments for both Republicans and Democrats are done by unanimous voice votes on the Senate floor. However, it’s unclear whether Republicans would unanimously allow this particular replacement to go through without objections, given the leverage that Feinstein’s absence has given them over judicial nominations. Replacing her would then take 60 votes to approve, which means at least 10 Republicans would need to back the measure.

Feinstein’s announcement came hours after Khanna tweeted, “It’s time for [her] to resign.”

“We need to put the country ahead of personal loyalty,” Khanna said. “While she has had a lifetime of public service, it is obvious she can no longer fulfill her duties. Not speaking out undermines our credibility as elected representatives of the people.”

Feinstein’s absence has slowed confirmation of Biden’s judicial nominees – one of the few pieces of the president’s agenda that congressional Democrats can act on in this session, given that the House is in Republicans’ hands. When asked in a CNN interview Monday if the absence of Feinstein, who has missed at least 60 votes this year, affects his ability to get Biden’s nominees through, Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Richard J. Durbin III (D-Ill.) said, “Of course it does.”

In a statement Wednesday to The Washington Post, Khanna, who is backing Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.) in her bid to fill the Senate seat, said Feinstein is slowing Democrats’ attempts to protect their priorities in courts nationwide.

“We have a crisis in the judiciary right now when women’s rights and voting rights are under assault,” Khanna said. “We have a Senator who is missing vote after vote to confirm judges who will uphold reproductive rights. [In] this historic moment where we must stand up to extremist judges, Senator Feinstein needs to step aside.”

On Thursday morning, Khanna told CNN that he felt an obligation to say what so many colleagues were saying in private. He added that Feinstein’s request for someone to replace her temporarily on the Senate Judiciary Committee was “not that simple,” because any single Republican senator could object to it.

“We have to see if that’s even possible, and I guess my question is: Why not just take the step and resign instead of going through all these motions?” he said. “But I will say it’s constructive. The most urgent issue is that we can get our judges confirmed.”

But another California Democrat, Rep. John Garamendi, came to Feinstein’s defense, saying she should not resign.

“Senator Feinstein exemplifies every quality we should expect from elected officials. She is a steward of progress and a champion for her constituents,” Garamendi said in a statement. “I strongly believe that Senator Feinstein deserves our respect and the opportunity to complete her final term in the U.S. Senate.”

Rep. Dean Phillips (D-Minn.) retweeted Khanna’s post Wednesday evening and said Feinstein’s continued absence is a “dereliction of duty.”

Not all House Democrats – including one prominent one – feel that way.

Former House speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) suggested to reporters on Wednesday that sexism could be a factor.

“It’s interesting to me,” Pelosi said. “I don’t know what political agendas are at work going after Senator Feinstein in that way. I’ve never seen them go after a man who was sick in the Senate in that way.”

While Feinstein previously said she will not resign before her term is up, California Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) said in 2021 he would appoint a Black woman to fill the role if Feinstein were to step down before 2024.

A number of Democrats have already lined up in the race to succeed Feinstein. In addition to Lee, Reps. Katie Porter and Adam B. Schiff have announced their candidacy.

Feinstein has long fought back against allegations – some coming from her own colleagues – that she is no longer fit to serve. She has faced questions about and media coverage of the perceived decline in her mental acuity.

“The real question is whether I’m still an effective representative for 40 million Californians, and the record shows that I am,” she said in a statement to The Post in response to an April 2022 article from the San Francisco Chronicle. It reported four Senate colleagues – three of them Democrats – and three of the lawmaker’s former staffers and a California Democrat in the House said her memory is rapidly deteriorating.

(c) 2023, The Washington Post · Mariana Alfaro, Liz Goodwin 


4 COMMENTS

  1. Why wasn’t Mrs. Feinstein prosecuted for not wearing a disposable mask during the heat of Covid when she took a flight?

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