Senate

Feinstein asks for Judiciary replacement after calls for resignation

Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) announced on Wednesday that her return to work in Washington has been delayed due to ongoing health complications and called on the Senate to appoint a temporary replacement for her on the Judiciary Committee. 

Her announcement came hours after Reps. Ro Khanna (D-Calif.) and Dean Phillips (D-Minn.) called for her to resign from the chamber.

Feinstein has been sidelined since late February after being diagnosed with shingles. Her absence, coupled with that of Sen. John Fetterman (D-Pa.), has left Democrats working at an even 49-49 at best during that time.

However, Feinstein’s post on the Senate Judiciary Committee has meant that the panel has been unable to advance partisan nominees through to floor votes over that period.

“When I was first diagnosed with shingles, I expected to return by the end of the March work period. Unfortunately, my return to Washington has been delayed due to continued complications related to my diagnosis,” Feinstein said in a Wednesday night statement. 

“I intend to return as soon as possible once my medical team advises that it’s safe for me to travel. In the meantime, I remain committed to the job and will continue to work from home in San Francisco,” Feinstein continued. 

“I understand that my absence could delay the important work of the Judiciary Committee, so I’ve asked [Majority Leader Chuck Schumer] to ask the Senate to allow another Democratic senator to temporarily serve until I’m able to resume my committee work,” she added. 

At the moment, there are 14 pending judicial nominees who have had hearings before the panel, but have not received a vote by the committee. Since Feinstein has been absent, the panel has had to cancel three committee markups for nominees.

A spokesperson for Schumer (D-N.Y.) said he would abide by Feinstein’s request. “Per Sen. Feinstein’s wishes, Majority Leader Schumer will ask the Senate next week to allow another Democratic Senator to temporarily serve on the Judiciary Committee,” they said.

A Politico report also emerged earlier Wednesday detailing the toll that shingles has taken on the 89-year-old senator and the oldest member of the upper chamber, who announced in February that she will not run for reelection in 2024. 

Feinstein’s acuity has come into question in recent years. This was most recently on display when she announced her plans to retire at the end of her term, only to tell reporters minutes after that she had not made a decision about whether to seek another term, forcing her staff to correct her. 

The longtime California Democrat has also rolled back her workload during the course of her term. She gave up her post atop the Judiciary Committee and allowed Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) to become chairman after an outcry over how she handled Judge Amy Coney Barrett’s confirmation for the Supreme Court in 2020.

She was also in line to become the Senate Pro Tempore this year as the longest serving Senate Democrat, but allowed Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) to take on the position. The position would have put her third in line for the presidency. 

Heading into the current two-week recess stretch, Senate Democrats were hopeful that she and Fetterman would be able to return to the upper chamber for work next week. Fetterman announced that he would indeed do so after being hospitalized and treated for clinical depression. 

“We hope to be back to full strength right after Easter and to get back down to business,” Durbin told The Hill at the time. 

Democrats hold an 11-10 advantage on the Judiciary Committee, making Feinstein’s absence even more acute than usual. 

Headlining the group of nominees who remain stuck in limbo are Michael Delaney, who was tapped to fill the 1st U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals vacancy, and Charnelle Bjelkengren, a district court judge nominee for the Eastern District of Washington. 

Delaney’s confirmation is in peril over his handling of a sexual assault case at a New Hampshire boarding school. Bjelkengren is the target of GOP opposition after she stumbled over questioning during her confirmation hearing. 

Since the February recess, the Senate overall has confirmed one circuit court nominee and 12 district court judges.

Updated: 9:59 p.m.

Tags Chuck Schumer Dianne Feinstein Dick Durbin John Fetterman Ro Khanna

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