Please ensure Javascript is enabled for purposes of website accessibility
Why Sen. Feinstein's Absence Is a Big Problem for Democrats
gvw_ap_news
By Associated Press
Published 1 year ago on
April 16, 2023

Share

Getting your Trinity Audio player ready...

Sen. Dianne Feinstein’s monthslong absence from the Senate to recover in California from shingles has become a vexing problem for Democrats who want to confirm President Joe Biden’s nominees to the federal courts. Now there is some pressure from within her party, and her state, to resign.

With frustration mounting among Democrats, Feinstein on Wednesday asked to be temporarily replaced on the Senate Judiciary Committee while she recuperates. The statement came shortly after a member of California’s House delegation, Democratic Rep. Ro Khanna, called on her to step down, saying it is “unacceptable” for her to miss votes to confirm judges who could be weighing in on abortion rights, a key Democratic priority.

It will not be easy to temporarily replace Feinstein on the influential committee. Republicans could block such a move, given that the full Senate must approve committee assignments.

The conundrum for Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., stems from his party’s fragile hold on power. Democrats are clinging to a 51-49 majority in an aging Senate where there have been several absences due to health issues this year.

A look at the politics surrounding Feinstein’s absence, and how Democrats are navigating the situation:

EXTENDED ABSENCE

Feinstein, 89, has been away from the Senate since Feb. 27, just two weeks after she announced she would not run for reelection in 2024.

Her office disclosed March 2 that she had been hospitalized in San Francisco and was being treated for a case of shingles. “I hope to return to the Senate later this month,” she said in a statement at the time.

Now, six weeks later, Feinstein’s office will not give a timeline for her return, even as Congress comes back into session Monday from a two-week recess.

It is unclear how long Feinstein expects to be away from Washington or whether she might resign before the end of her term. She has already faced questions in recent years about her cognitive health and memory, and has appeared increasingly frail. But she has defended her effectiveness.

STALLED JUDGES

Since February, Feinstein has missed more than 50 votes. Her absence on the Judiciary Committee means that Democrats can only confirm judges who have some Republican support because Democrats only have a one-seat majority on the panel.

The committee chairman, Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., has acknowledged that the pace of confirmations has slowed.

“I can’t consider nominees in these circumstances because a tie vote is a losing vote in committee,” Durbin told CNN.

There are currently 12 federal judge nominees whom Democrats say they have been unable to advance because of Feinstein’s absence. It is not clear how many would have Republican support.

AN UNUSUAL REQUEST

Feinstein’s request to be temporarily replaced on the panel is uncommon and the politics at play are complicated.

Committee assignments are typically approved easily in the full Senate at the beginning of each two-year session. Replacements are generally only made when a senator dies or resigns.

To change the committee membership, Democrats will have to hold a vote. While committee rosters are generally approved by a voice vote, just one Republican objection would trigger a roll call. Because of Senate rules, Democrats probably would need 60 votes to replace Feinstein — meaning at least 10 Republicans would have to help Democrats and support the move.

That is far from assured. Judicial nominations are a high-stakes matter for both sides, and the process has become steeped in partisanship.

Republicans have so far stayed quiet. Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky has said he will return from his own medical absence on Monday, after a head injury in a fall last month.

CALIFORNIA POLITICS

Feinstein’s February announcement that she will retire from Congress when her term ends next year has triggered a scramble for her seat in a strongly Democratic state.

Democratic Reps. Barbara LeeKatie Porter and Adam Schiff have already launched Senate campaigns to succeed Feinstein.

California Gov. Gavin Newsom, a Democrat, said in 2021 that he would nominate a Black woman to fill the seat if Feinstein were to step aside before her term ends. Khanna has endorsed Lee, who is Black.

Other Californians — including former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi — have come to Feinstein’s defense.

Pelosi told a San Francisco TV station that she’s “seen up close and firsthand her great leadership for our country, but especially for our state of California. She deserves the respect to get well and be back on duty.”

Pelosi suggested sexism has played a role in the way Feinstein has been treated.

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

A STORIED CAREER

Feinstein has been a political trailblazer since she was the first woman to serve as president of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors in the 1970s. First elected to the Senate in 1992, she was the first woman to head the Senate Intelligence Committee, privy to the nation’s top secrets, and the first woman to serve as the Judiciary Committee’s top Democrat.

While she often has worked across party lines, she faced criticism in recent years from Democrats who said she was letting Republicans off easy in bruising judicial fights.

Feinstein infuriated liberals in 2020 when she closed out confirmation hearings for now-Supreme Court Justice Amy Coney Barrett with an embrace of the then-Senate Judiciary Committee chairman, Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., and thanked him for a job well done.

A month later, she announced she would remain on the committee but step down as the senior Democrat.

RELATED TOPICS:

DON'T MISS

The Cost to Inform California Voters? $118,000 a Page for Official Guide

DON'T MISS

Top Russian Military Officials Are Being Arrested. Why Is It Happening?

DON'T MISS

Delta Tunnel Water Project May Finally Be Nearing a Historic Decision

DON'T MISS

CA Senate Passes Hospital Seismic Compliance Bill: What’s the Impact on Local Hospitals?

DON'T MISS

Take This Memorial Day Quiz Before Warming up the Grill

DON'T MISS

Hate Wasting Money? Use These 7 Hacks to Feed Your Family for Less

DON'T MISS

NCAA and Leagues Back $2.8 Billion Settlement, Setting Stage for Current, Former Athletes to Be Paid

DON'T MISS

UC Berkeley Faces a Summer of Discontent as Gaza Protesters Remain Steadfast

DON'T MISS

Newsom Promised 1,200 Tiny Homes for Homeless Californians. How Many Are Being Used?

DON'T MISS

Fresno Unified Unveils 5-Year Literacy Plan. What Are the Expectations?

UP NEXT

UAW Files Objection to Mercedes Vote, Accuses Company of Intimidating Workers

UP NEXT

Dolores Huerta, Mayors Dyer and Ashbeck Oppose Tax Protection Measure. What Does it Do?

UP NEXT

Second Flag Carried by Jan. 6 Rioters Displayed Outside House Owned by Justice Alito, Report Says

UP NEXT

American Airlines Retreats After Blaming a 9-Year-Old for Not Seeing a Hidden Camera in a Lavatory

UP NEXT

Cal Chamber’s Job Killer List Shrinks, but Does Its Influence?

UP NEXT

Supreme Court Finds No Bias Against Black Voters in a South Carolina Congressional District

UP NEXT

Portland Nurse Returns Home After Treating Gaza Burn Victims

UP NEXT

Fresno Needs More Grocery Stores. Would Change to Local Liquor Law Help It Happen?

UP NEXT

RNC HQ Evacuated: Blood Vials Addressed to Trump Prompt Security Alert

UP NEXT

Senate Confirms 200th Federal Judge Under Biden as Democrats Surpass Trump’s Pace

CA Senate Passes Hospital Seismic Compliance Bill: What’s the Impact on Local Hospitals?

1 day ago

Take This Memorial Day Quiz Before Warming up the Grill

2 days ago

Hate Wasting Money? Use These 7 Hacks to Feed Your Family for Less

2 days ago

NCAA and Leagues Back $2.8 Billion Settlement, Setting Stage for Current, Former Athletes to Be Paid

2 days ago

UC Berkeley Faces a Summer of Discontent as Gaza Protesters Remain Steadfast

2 days ago

Newsom Promised 1,200 Tiny Homes for Homeless Californians. How Many Are Being Used?

2 days ago

Fresno Unified Unveils 5-Year Literacy Plan. What Are the Expectations?

2 days ago

Man Sentenced to 25 Years for Teaching Bomb-Making to Person Targeting Authorities

2 days ago

UCLA Police Arrest Young Man for Alleged Felony Assault in Attack on Pro-Palestinian Encampment

2 days ago

UAW Files Objection to Mercedes Vote, Accuses Company of Intimidating Workers

2 days ago

The Cost to Inform California Voters? $118,000 a Page for Official Guide

What’s the cost of democracy in California? Sameea Kamal CalMatters If we calculate that based just on the pages informing the state’s 22...

13 hours ago

13 hours ago

The Cost to Inform California Voters? $118,000 a Page for Official Guide

13 hours ago

Top Russian Military Officials Are Being Arrested. Why Is It Happening?

13 hours ago

Delta Tunnel Water Project May Finally Be Nearing a Historic Decision

1 day ago

CA Senate Passes Hospital Seismic Compliance Bill: What’s the Impact on Local Hospitals?

2 days ago

Take This Memorial Day Quiz Before Warming up the Grill

2 days ago

Hate Wasting Money? Use These 7 Hacks to Feed Your Family for Less

2 days ago

NCAA and Leagues Back $2.8 Billion Settlement, Setting Stage for Current, Former Athletes to Be Paid

2 days ago

UC Berkeley Faces a Summer of Discontent as Gaza Protesters Remain Steadfast

MENU

CONNECT WITH US

Search

Send this to a friend