Senate Democrats are staring down a dilemma after Republicans roundly opposed the call to temporarily replace Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) on the Judiciary Committee.
They’ve been left with no choice but to wait it out amid a growing backlog of judicial nominations.
Senate Republicans on Monday panned the idea of filling Feinstein’s post on the panel.
Some pointed to their newfound ability to block partisan judges from being voted out of the Judiciary Committee, which is deadlocked without Feinstein, and reaching the Senate floor. Others cried ageism.
And several argued that if the six-term senator will be back “soon,” as Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) said on Monday, there’s no need for someone to replace her for any length of time.
With the GOP not giving an inch and Feinstein, 89, not bowing to pressure to resign, Democrats are left in a tricky position.
They would love to keep the train of judicial nominations running smoothly, but they also want to respect the longest-tenured member of the Senate Democratic Caucus who is revered in many corners.
It has left them with no choice but to wait for her return.
“I don’t think it’s clear yet how quickly her recovery is coming around. … If she could come back in a week or two, I think that’s fine — even several weeks,” Sen. John Hickenlooper (D-Colo.) said. “She’s someone who’s served this country for a long time in a very high level. She deserves to create her own timeline.”
“She knows in her heart of hearts how quickly she can get here. She knows how important it is — that we need her. So let’s give her a little time to sort through it.”
Feinstein has been sidelined with shingles since senators returned from the February recess, throwing multiple wrenches into the business of the upper chamber in the meantime. The committee last voted to advance a judicial nominee on Feb. 16 and has been forced to cancel the last three markups on nominations.
There are 14 nominees who have appeared for Judiciary Committee hearings but have yet to receive a vote from the panel.
That frustration boiled over in some corners last week as a pair of House members, headlined by Rep. Ro Khanna (D-Calif.), called for her to resign.
At issue now is how Senate Democrats navigate the difficult waters that the situation presents.
Outside of waiting, there is no immediate plan.
“I don’t know. I can’t tell you the moves on the chessboard,” Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.) told The Hill. “But we’re not going to give up giving our majority on the Judiciary Committee. We worked too hard for it.”
According to multiple Senate Democrats, the issues surrounding Feinstein’s absence did not come up at their first luncheon after recess. Schumer reiterated afterward to reporters that he expects her back “very soon,” adding that he would try to fill her spot with Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.).
He attempted to do that via unanimous consent Tuesday evening but was blocked by Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.).
Other top Democrats also stayed mum on the situation. When asked about how the majority can manage her absence, Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), the chairman of the Judiciary Committee, simply said: “It’s up to Sen. Feinstein.”
Nevertheless, the party knows they have an issue at hand as they continue to struggle to advance their judicial nominees to full votes on the floor.
“It’s a problem,” Sen. Jon Tester (D-Mont.) told The Hill.
“This is all on Dianne, more than anything, and Dianne has been here and accomplished some marvelous things, and she will have to make a decision on whether she’s going to continue or not,” Tester told reporters. “But it’s not my decision or anyone else’s.”
The already-intense GOP opposition to filling her post on Judiciary went to another level on Tuesday as Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said in a floor speech that Senate Republicans “will not take part in sidelining a temporary absent colleague off the committee just so Democrats can force through their very worst nominees.”
He added that a “bunch” of the 14 nominees currently awaiting committee votes could win bipartisan approval, pointing to four who are “especially extreme” or “especially unqualified.”
No firm timeline has been laid out for Feinstein’s return. When she announced in early March she was released from the hospital following her shingles diagnosis, she said that she planned to return “as soon as possible.”
The open-ended phrasing has kept Capitol Hill guessing.
“It’s just a matter of when,” Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) reportedly told reporters on Tuesday, adding that she has kept in touch with her fellow longtime San Francisco Democrat. “With all due respect to all of the people who have served, and we owe them respect for when they are sick, for them to get well and to take the time to do it. That should apply to her as well as to all the others.”