AP Photo/Mariam Zuhaib
- Durbin asked that his GOP colleagues allow the Senate to replace Feinstein on the Judiciary panel.
- Feinstein has been out for weeks and Democrats want to approve President Biden’s judicial nominees.
- However, the Democratic effort appears to be hitting a brick wall among Republican senators.
As a broad swath of Republican senators on Monday voiced opposition to temporarily replacing Sen. Dianne Feinstein on the Judiciary Committee, the panel’s chairman asked that his GOP counterparts “show a little kindness” toward their Democratic colleague as she continues to recover from a bout of shingles.
Feinstein, the 89-year-old veteran lawmaker who has been absent from the Senate for nearly two months, last week requested to be taken off the key Senate panel after facing calls from several Democratic lawmakers to resign from office.
The California senator’s weekslong absence has prevented Democrats from confirming President Joe Biden’s numerous judicial nominees, which has been a key priority for the administration and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer of New York since the president took office in 2021.
In the first two years of Biden’s presidency, Democrats confirmed his nominees at a rapid clip, determined to counter former President Donald Trump’s success in installing conservatives to key judicial vacancies during his single term in office. Democrats in January had a 51-49 Senate majority, and members were gleeful at having a 11-10 edge on the Judiciary Committee, which wasn’t the case in the previous 50-50 Senate.
But with Feinstein still recovering in San Francisco, the composition of the Judiciary Committee is 10-10. Democrats would need the full Senate to approve a temporary replacement, and Durbin called on Republicans to think of Feinstein, who has served in the body since winning a 1992 special election.
“It just boils down to this — tomorrow this could happen to the Republicans, and they could find themselves in a vulnerable position through no fault of their own,” he told a group of reporters, including NBC News, on Capitol Hill. “I hope that they’ll show a little kindness and caring for their colleague. She’s in a delicate part of her life and her Senate service and they should stand by her and give her a dignified departure from the committee.”
“She is obviously sensitive to the fact that her absence has an impact on the committee,” he continued. “I think we can take care of this issue, do it very quickly, and I hope we can find 10 Republicans who will join us in that effort.”
Sen. John Cornyn of Texas didn’t foresee Republican members helping Democrats temporarily replace Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California on the Judiciary Committee.
AP Photo/Mariam Zuhaib
Little ‘appetite’ among GOP to replace Feinstein
In order for Democratic leaders to replace Feinstein on the Judiciary Committee, they’d need either unanimous consent or 60 votes to proceed.
But Republican lawmakers, who have railed against many of Biden’s judicial nominees as too ideologically liberal, on Monday appeared unwilling to help Democrats with their dilemma — a list which included both conservative hardliner Tom Cotton of Arkansas and the more moderate Susan Collins of Maine.
Sen. John Cornyn of Texas told NBC News that Republicans weren’t on board to aid Democrats in restoring their committee edge simply to advance nominees that GOP members feel are unfit to serve on the federal bench.
“These are, by definition, the most controversial nominees,” he told the news outlet. “And if Democrats are depending strictly on their own party-line vote to get them out of committee — I don’t think there’s any appetite on our side to help what we consider to be controversial or unqualified nominees to get confirmed.”
Cotton, a Judiciary member who has been sharply critical of the Biden administration, was clear in his opposition to the Democratic effort on Monday.
“Republicans should not assist Democrats in confirming Joe Biden’s most radical nominees to the courts,” he tweeted.
And Collins, who during the first year of Biden’s presidency backed more of his judicial nominees than any other Senate Republican, expressed opposition to the Democratic proposal while also praising Feinstein’s service.
“She’s been an extraordinary senator, she’s a friend of mine,” the senator told reporters on Monday. “During the past two years, there has been a concerted campaign to force her off of the Judiciary Committee. And I think that’s wrong, and I won’t be a part of that.”
Feinstein, a trailblazing former San Francisco mayor, had for decades been a broadly popular figure within the party. But as the Democratic base in California shifted to the left, her more moderate stances on many issues made her unpopular with many of the state’s progressive voters.
She won reelection by eight points in 2018, but it was her closest race since winning her first full term in 1994.
In 2020, Democrats were incensed at Feinstein — then the ranking member of the Judiciary Committee — after she praised Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina for his handling of the confirmation of conservative jurist Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court. After liberal jurist Ruth Bader Ginsburg died just weeks before the presidential election that November, Republicans pushed through Barrett’s nomination, infuriating Democrats still upset that the GOP had blocked now-Attorney General Merrick Garland from ascending to the high court after the death of Antonin Scalia in 2016.
Feinstein announced after the 2020 election that she would not serve as the top Democrat on the Judiciary Committee at the beginning of the new Congress, but would remain a member of the panel.