Republicans reject plan to replace Feinstein on Judiciary
Senate Republicans balked Monday at a plan to temporarily replace Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., on the Judiciary Committee while she is treated for shingles.
What You Need To Know
- Senate Republicans balked Monday at a plan to temporarily replace Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., on the Judiciary Committee while she is treated for shingles
- Feinstein, 89, has been out for more than two months with the viral infection.
- Her absence is being felt most prominently on the Judiciary Committee because, without her vote, Democrats are unable to advance judiciary nominees
- Feinstein said she would return to Washington once her doctors determine it is safe for her to do so, but she offered to temporarily step aside on the Judiciary Committee
Feinstein, 89, has been out for more than two months with the viral infection. She has not cast a vote since Feb. 16 and has missed over 70% of Senate votes in the past four months.
But Feinstein’s absence is being felt most prominently on the Judiciary Committee. Without her vote, Democrats are unable to advance judiciary nominees.
Last week in a tweet, Rep. Ro Khanna, D-Calif., called for her resignation. Khanna, spurred by a Trump-appointed federal judge’s ruling that would have halted FDA approval of an abortion medication, told Spectrum News that “Democrats must act with speed and urgency to confirm judicial nominees who will protect the right to an abortion.”
Feinstein said she would return to Washington once her doctors determine it is safe for her to do so. But she offered one concession, asking Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., to temporarily remove her from the Judiciary Committee and name a stand-in member so that judges can continue to be confirmed.
“[It’s] unusual that one senator is so badly missed on a committee that their presence shapes the actual business of the Senate,” said Matt Dallek, a historian and professor of political management at George Washington University. “It’s unusual to have a kind of stasis where a committee’s work is impeded, and there’s pressure on the party to appoint a temporary replacement. It’s an unusual situation, and that’s why it’s a little unclear how things are going to shake out.”
Schumer promised that he would bring a resolution to the floor to try and fulfill Feinstein’s wish.
“She’s hopeful she’s going to return soon. I am hopeful she is going to return soon. We should have a temporary replacement until she does,” Schumer told reporters Monday, adding that he hadn’t discussed the matter yet with Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., and that he hoped Republicans would join him in voting for a temporary replacement.
Those hopes, however, were quickly dashed.
“This is, it turns out, unprecedented,” Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, said in a floor speech Monday. “Over the years, senators from both sides, as I indicated a moment ago, have needed time away due to various health issues. Never — not once — have we allowed temporary substitutes on committees. And now is not the time to start.”
Democrats will need at least 10 Republicans to join them in passing the resolution. However, Sens. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., Joni Ernst, R-Iowa, Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va., Thom Tillis, R-N.C., and Marsha Blackburn R-Tenn., have also indicated they would vote no.
It’s unclear how McConnell will approach the issue — if he approaches it at all. Last month, he told Spectrum News that what he decides “not to do” as a party leader “is hugely important,” citing his decision to block Merrick Garland’s nomination to the Supreme Court in 2016 as an example. But given that McConnell just returned Monday, six weeks after suffering a head injury in a fall at a Washington hotel, it’s unclear how Feinstein’s ailment may play into his decision.
“If the Democrats are unable to put a replacement on the Judiciary Committee, at least temporarily, that ramps up the pressure on Feinstein,” Dallek said.
According to the American Constitution Society, there are at least 18 judicial nominees waiting for floor votes, 12 waiting to be voted out of committee, and six waiting for hearings.
Despite the complications, some of Feinstein’s colleagues are continuing to defend her.
“We believe that a senator should be able to make her own judgments about when they’re retiring and when they’re not, and they all deserve a chance to get better and come back to work,” Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., said Sunday on CNN’s “State of the Union.”
But at least one Democratic senator is admitting this can only continue for so long.
“I think what we need to do is take her at her word. She is recovering from shingles, and make sure she comes back,” said Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., Sunday on ABC’s “This Week.” “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.”
Without a timeline for her return, Feinstein has also put California Gov. Gavin Newsom in a tough spot.
Back in 2021, during an appearance on “The Reid Out” on MSNBC, Newsom committed to appointing a Black woman to replace Feinstein if she retired. But with Rep. Barbara Lee, D-Calif., running for the seat in 2024, sources tell Spectrum News the governor would likely try to avoid tipping the scales in any candidate’s favor.
When the Senate returned to Washington on Monday after a two-day recess, it marked the return of Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and Pennsylvania Sen. John Fetterman. Both men had been absent for weeks — McConnell for recovery after a head injury and Fetterman for in-patient treatment of depression.
But the senator getting the most attention Monday was the one who has been noticeably absent for more than two months now – 89-year-old Dianne Feinstein.
Feinstein, who has held her seat since 1992 and has been recovering from a case of shingles, has not cast a vote in the Senate since Feb. 16. She has missed over 70% of Senate votes in the past four months as a result.