The 89-year-old California senator’s extended absence has created headaches for Democrats and for President Joe Biden’s judicial nominees.
A pair of Republicans who serve on the powerful Senate Judiciary Committee made clear they won’t vote to replace the 89-year-old California Democrat on the panel as she has requested due to health issues that have kept her away from Washington for nearly two months.
“I will not go along with Chuck Schumer’s plan to replace Senator Feinstein on the Judiciary Committee and pack the court with activist judges. Joe Biden wants the Senate to rubber stamp his unqualified and controversial judges to radically transform America,” Sen. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.) tweeted on Monday.
Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) also urged Republicans over the weekend to “not assist Democrats in confirming Joe Biden’s most radical nominees to the courts.”
Democrats initially hoped to replace Feinistein on the committee quickly via what is known as a unanimous consent request on the Senate floor while she recovers from a bout of the shingles. Her absence has stalled the confirmation of President Joe Biden’s judicial nominees, which the committee is responsible for processing, and it’s unclear when she will return to the Senate.
However, any one Republican senator could object to a unanimous consent request, as Blackburn and Cotton have suggested. That likely means that replacing Feinstein on the committee would require bipartisan support ― at least 10 Republican votes ― and a lengthier process that would eat up valuable time on the Senate floor.
It’s unclear at this point if Democrats will try to push through Feinstein’s replacement given GOP opposition to a quick vote. Of course, if Feinstein is able to return sooner than expected, the issue would be moot for now, at least.
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) told reporters on Monday that he spoke with Feinstein and that “she hopes to be back soon.”
“We think the Republicans should allow a temporary replacement until she returns,” Schumer added.
Democrats appear divided over how to handle Feinstein’s absence. Some progressives, including Rep. Ro Khanna (D-Calif.), have called for her to retire early before her planned end-of-2024 date in order to allow Biden to confirm judicial nominees. The fate of abortion rights and LGBT rights in the federal courts are too important for any single person, they’ve argued.
Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), who also sits on the Judiciary Committee, said that Democrats have many crucial votes coming up, including on the debt ceiling, that would require the California senator’s presence.
“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,” Klobuchar told ABC’s “This Week.”
But other Democratic senators haven’t backed calls for Feinstein to step down.
“The decision about whether somebody should resign rests on that individual themselves,” Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) told MSNBC’s “Inside With Jen Psaki” Sunday. “I don’t think she should be forced out.”
“We believe a senator should be able to make their own judgments about when they’re retiring,” added Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) during a Sunday interview on CNN’s “State of the Union. “She has the right, in my opinion, to decide when she steps down.”