dDemocrats are at a loss over how to handle the absence of Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) after Republicans rejected an attempt to temporarily replace her on the Judiciary Committee.
Feinstein has been recovering from a case of shingles at her California home for more than six weeks, leaving the panel deadlocked without the 89-year-old present.
GRAHAM BLOCKS SCHUMER PUSH TO REPLACE FEINSTEIN ON JUDICIARY
While Senate Democrats have given Feinstein the space and time to recover, progressives have grown increasingly uneasy as the absence slows the ability of Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D -NY) to advance President Joe Biden’s judicial nominees through the committee.
The party’s left wing, which has long bristled at Feinstein’s penchant for bipartisan collegiality, has called for her resignation, a chorus that reached a fever pitch last week when two House Democrats , Reps. Ro Khanna (CA) and Dean Phillips (MN), became the first lawmakers to join this call.
Within hours, Feinstein issued a statement reiterating her intention to return to Washington as soon as she could. But he also proposed a bit of an escape hatch, a solution that would give him time to recover without stopping Biden’s judicial nominations.
He called for Schumer to temporarily move her to the Judiciary Committee, a proposal the majority leader agreed to bring to the Senate.
Schumer framed the question as a matter of “senatorship collegiality” and the “right” and “fair” thing to do. However, Republicans quickly made it clear that despite their reverence for Feinstein as a female pioneer in the Senate, there was no desire to pass a measure that would help Democrats nominate liberal justices.
As lawmakers returned from their two-week Easter recess Monday, Republicans uniformly announced their opposition to the request. Even centrists like Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME) dismissed the Democrats’ offer as an attempt to sideline Feinstein.
“Senator Feinstein is my friend and she has been an extraordinary senator. Over the past two years, there has clearly been a concerted campaign to force her off the Judiciary Committee,” he said. “That’s what’s going on here, and I’m not going to have any part of it.”
Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC), known as a bipartisan vote on the Judiciary Committee, killed any hope the plan would pass Tuesday, when Schumer went to the Senate floor to ask Sen. Ben Cardin (D-MD) . ) replaces Feinstein.
Graham opposed the unanimous consent request, leaving Democrats in first place.
Democrats have few good options as they consider their next steps. Schumer could force a full Senate vote, but without 10 Republicans on board to prevent a filibuster, that motion is all but doomed.
The party could decide to make the most of a bad situation and live without Feinstein on the judiciary: There are still several justices the court could advance who would win bipartisan support.
But without a timeline for Feinstein’s return, patience will inevitably wear thin as her absence comes at a greater cost. Schumer had been confirming Biden judges at a breakneck pace for the Senate, and having a functioning Judiciary Committee is essential if the majority leader wants to rival the number of judges appointed under former President Donald Trump.
Progressives are agitating for Democrats to play hard on the Republican opposition. Brian Fallon, the executive director of the judicial activist group Demand Justice, wants Senate Democrats to threaten to end the tradition of blue slips, which allow senators from a judge’s home state to wield power veto on his nomination, if the Republicans do not accept.
“Just raising the specter of it might make Republicans think twice,” Fallon told the New York Times. “The Republicans didn’t even consider trying to meet the Democrats halfway because they don’t fear any retaliation.”
While Democrats are considering ending the practice, it’s not clear there’s any appetite for retribution. Asked about the prospect, Sen. John Kennedy (LA), a Republican member of the judiciary, confidently dismissed it.
“No, no. This is all bluff,” he told the Washington Examiner.
“Democrats want blue slips as much as Republicans,” he added. “Without the blue slip, we have zero power vis-a-vis the White House. And the U.S. Congress has ceded so much of its power to the executive branch that on the blue slip, I think most, if not all, Republicans And frankly, most, if not all, Democrats support blue slip.”
Two Judiciary Committee Democrats the Washington Examiner spoke with on Tuesday said the blue-collar dissolution talk is premature, while a third, Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), said the decision depends on the Speaker Dick Durbin (D-IL). Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) said he believes the tradition should remain in place.
“We have a challenging dynamic on the committee where we are seriously debating the future of the blue slip and trying to regularly reconfirm President Biden’s nominees,” said Sen. Chris Coons (D-DE). “Sen. Feinstein has communicated through staff that she will be back soon. I hope that we will soon be full members of the committee again and can resume consideration of candidates. So we’ll see. I think we’ll have to cross that bridge when we get there.”
For now, Democrats in Washington have shown deference to Feinstein to Biden. Former Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) has denounced calls for her resignation as sexist.
However, if Feinstein’s absence drags on much longer, Democrats have begun to make clear the deep well of support she has could dry up.
“If this goes on month after month after month, then he’s going to have to make a decision with his family and his friends about what his future holds because it’s not just about California. It’s about the nation,” he said. Sunday on ABC Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN). “So it’s going to become a problem as the months go by. But I’ll take his word for it that he’ll be back.”
Republicans have speculated that Schumer’s move is designed to show Feinstein that she needs to resign. However, it remains to be seen whether more Democrats will publicly urge her to resign now that Schumer’s solution has failed.
“I think what the Democrats are trying to do to Dianne Feinstein is terrible; I think what they’re trying to do is force her to resign,” Sen. Josh Hawley (R-MO) told reporters Tuesday. “I think this is a maneuver designed to fail. This has never been done – this kind of exchange of one member for another. I think they know it will fail. And then they’ll turn around and say: “Go? You have to resign, and it’s terrible, but it’s not my vocation”.
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Khanna, who is supporting Rep. Barbara Lee (D-CA) in the Senate race to replace Feinstein in 2024, said the plan to replace Feinstein succeeded in “stopping the bleeding and stopping the growing heart for her to resign.” But he said it’s now up to Feinstein to announce her next move.
“It worked for a few days, but it didn’t solve the problem, as many of us had warned,” he told NBC News. “The ball is back in Sen. Feinstein’s court to provide a specific timetable for when she can vote. Judiciary to confirm President Biden judges.”