Progressive group: Feinstein must step down as top Democrat on Judiciary panel
Demand Justice, a progressive outside group, is calling for Sen. Dianne Feinstein (Calif.) to step down as the top Democrat on the Senate Judiciary Committee in the wake of Supreme Court nominee Judge Amy Coney Barrett’s confirmation hearings.
“It’s time for Sen. Feinstein to step down from her leadership position on the Senate Judiciary Committee. If she won’t, her colleagues need to intervene,” said Brian Fallon, the executive director of Demand Justice.
Fallon added that Feinstein had “undercut Democrats’ position at every step of this process.”
“If Senate Democrats are going to get their act together on the courts going forward, they cannot be led by someone who treats Sunrise activists with contempt and the Republican theft of a Supreme Court seat with kid gloves,” he said.
Feinstein, 87, has long been a target of progressive ire, but the warning signs from activists are ramping up as it appears increasingly likely that Democrats could win back the Senate majority in November. Feinstein, as the top Democrat on the panel, is in line to become the chair.
She’s signaled opposition to nixing the legislative filibuster if Democrats retake the majority in November. Supporters of getting rid of the 60-vote procedural hurdle argue that it stands in the way of the party’s major policy goals.
She also drew fierce scrutiny for her handling of decades-old sexual assault allegations against then-Supreme Court nominee Judge Brett Kavanaugh in 2018. Feinstein’s office had a letter detailing the allegation from Christine Blasey Ford against Kavanaugh for months before turning it over to the FBI. Feinstein defended the decision at the time saying she was asked to keep the allegations confidential.
Feinstein faced renewed criticism this week because of her treatment of Barrett, with progressives frustrated because they believe Democrats failed to underline the stakes. Republicans, if they confirm Barrett, will set a record for the closest to a presidential election that a Supreme Court nominee has been approved.
Barrett’s nomination also comes four years after Republicans refused to give then-President Obama’s Supreme Court nominee, Judge Merrick Garland, a hearing or a vote. Republicans argue that the fact that they now control both the White House and the Senate is a significant distinction.
Fallon, in his statement, alluded to remarks that Feinstein made at the end of the hearings for Barrett’s nomination on Thursday.
Feinstein thanked Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), who is in a tough reelection battle, for how he ran Barrett’s hearing.
“This has been one of the best Senate hearings I have participated in. Thank you for your fairness and opportunity of going back and forth. It leaves one with a lot of hopes,” Feinstein said.
Feinstein was also spotted hugging Graham after the hearing. Feinstein’s comments were quickly circulated by Senate Republicans.
Fallon isn’t the only progressive who has voiced frustration with Feinstein’s handling of Barrett’s hearing.
Adam Jentleson, a staffer for former Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), warned that Feinstein, if Democrats retake the majority, would “oversee all judicial confirmations (she wants to reinstitute blue slips, giving Rs veto power) plus civil rights, statehood etc.”
“The decision will be made by Senate leaders soon after the election,” he tweeted.
Asked about Demand Justice’s statement, an aide for Feinstein pointed to a statement released late Thursday afternoon where the Democratic senator reiterated that she will vote against Barrett and defended Democrats’ handling of the hearings.
“Judiciary Committee Democrats had one goal this week: to show what’s at stake under a 6-3 conservative Supreme Court – and we did that. We showed that Judge Barrett has a long history of opposing the Affordable Care Act and Roe v. Wade and represents the vote to overturn both,” Feinstein said in the statement.
“The Senate is structured so the majority had absolute control over this process. When Republicans signaled they’d move ahead in the face of all objections, the only thing we could do was show this nominee would radically alter the court, and we accomplished that,” she added.
Though Feinstein complimented Graham at the end of the hearing on Thursday, she was also critical of the decision by Republicans to move Barrett’s nomination earlier during a heated business meeting.
“This is being done without any precedent in the time at least that I’ve been on this committee,” Feinstein said of the GOP decision to confirm Barrett days before the Nov. 3 election. “It’s being done I guess to show power and push someone through.”
She also wasn’t the only Democrat on the committee to compliment Graham for the overall tone of the hearings, which were significantly less contentious than the battle over Kavanaugh.
Sen. Dick Durbin (Ill.), the No. 2 Senate Democrat, told Graham at the end of Wednesday’s hearing, that he wanted to thank him “for your fairness in this hearing.”
“I’ve heard no objection nor will I about the way you’ve conducted this. You’ve given everyone a chance to express themselves,” Durbin said.