Where Democrats go from here on Feinstein's perilous absence

  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.

Amid growing doubts that she will ever return to Washington, Dianne Feinstein gave Senate Democrats a break by asking them to temporarily replace her on the powerful Judiciary Committee.

But what happens next isn't simple for the veteran senator's party.

Replacing the 89-year-old Feinstein on the Judiciary panel, as she requested late Wednesday night while she remains sidelined from the Capitol recovering from shingles, would require passing a resolution on the Senate floor. And Republicans have the power to block such a measure from passing unanimously, forcing a vote that would require 60 senators to get it across the finish line.

No Republicans have spoken out so far about Feinstein's request for a temporary replacement on the Judiciary Committee, where her absence has hobbled Democrats' ability to confirm President Joe Biden’s judicial picks. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell's office also offered no word on the matter Wednesday night.

But the GOP has plenty of members eager to continue blocking those Biden nominees, so it's unclear how willing they’ll be to help Democrats solve their Feinstein problem.

The senior California senator also sits on the Senate Intelligence, Appropriations and Rules Committees, though she limited her request for a short-term replacement to her seat on Judiciary.

In his statement acknowledging Feinstein's now-murky path to returning to the Senate, Judiciary panel chief Sen. Dick Durbin’s (D-Ill.) spokesperson didn’t acknowledge her request to be replaced.

“Sen. Durbin wishes Sen. Feinstein well as she continues to recover. And he looks forward to continuing the important work of moving judicial nominees through the Committee when the Senate reconvenes,” said Emily Hampsten.

Meanwhile, some House Democrats are starting to say the quiet part out loud — calling on Feinstein to resign after POLITICO reported on Wednesday that people who have visited with Feinstein in recent weeks or been briefed on her status say her shingles diagnosis appears to have taken a heavy toll.

Rep. Ro Khanna (D-Calif.), who serves as co-chair of Rep. Barbara Lee’s (D-Calif.) 2024 Senate campaign to replace Feinstein, said the current California senator should resign because “it is obvious she can no longer fulfill her duties.”

And quote-tweeting Khanna,Rep. Dean Phillips (D-Minn.) agreed, calling it a "dereliction of duty" for Feinstein "to remain in the Senate and a dereliction of duty for those who agree to remain quiet.”

Yet some female lawmakers, including former Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), are urging the party to give Feinstein space to end her long career on her terms.

Rep. Norma Torres (D-Calif.) tweeted a wish for Feinstein to get well soon and added: “When women age or get sick, the men are quick to push them aside. When men age or get sick, they get a promotion.”

Separately, Pelosi told reporters, “She deserves the respect to get well and be back on duty and it’s interesting to me, I don’t know what political agendas are at work, that are going after Sen. Feinstein in that way.”

Feinstein confidants underscored that they are still hopeful she could serve out the nearly two years that remain in her term. But neither of those two people, who addressed the sensitive matter on condition of anonymity, indicated they were confident she would be able to do so from Washington.

And Democrats may soon face another problem with their senior California senator: Regardless of whether she's replaced on the Judiciary panel, her absence from the floor leaves them in a tough spot with a 51-49 majority.

Ryan Lizza contributed to this report.