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Senate Republicans block Dem plan to remove Dianne Feinstein and jump start judicial confirmations

 April 19, 2023

Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), who has been sidelined since mid-February as she recovers from a case of shingles, recently asked Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) to temporarily replace her on the Senate Judiciary Committee until she eventually returns in order for that committee to continue approving President Joe Biden's judicial nominees.

That plan was blocked on Tuesday by Senate Republicans, however, as they made it clear that they had no intentions to help Democrats confirm more left-leaning federal judges, the Daily Mail reported.

The blockade of a temporary replacement for Feinstein means that while the Democrats technically hold the majority in the Senate and on the committees, the Judiciary Committee is actuality split equally between the two parties for the duration of the 89-year-old California senator's extended absence.

Feinstein asks to be "temporarily" replaced on Judiciary Committee

It was on April 12 that Sen. Feinstein issued a press release to announce that her expected return to Capitol Hill had been indefinitely delayed due to "continued complications" with her health, though she insisted that she fully intended to return "as soon as possible" once she was cleared to do so by her medical team.

In the meantime, Feinstein said, "I understand that my absence could delay the important work of the Judiciary Committee, so I’ve asked Leader Schumer to ask the Senate to allow another Democratic senator to temporarily serve until I’m able to resume my committee work."

That led to ample discussion over the past week about who Leader Schumer might pick to temporarily replace Feinstein and whether Senate Republicans would go along with the idea, but that second question was unmistakably answered by Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) on Tuesday.

McConnell says "No"

In a brief speech on the Senate floor, Sen. McConnell addressed the "extremely unusual request" put forward by Senate Democrats along with the talking point from Democrats and the media that virtually all work on judicial nominees had ground to a halt during Feinstein's prolonged absence.

"So far this Congress, the Committee has reported out 40 judicial nominees, more than half of them on bipartisan votes. Let me say that again: More than two dozen judicial nominees have been reported out this Congress on bipartisan votes," McConnell said.

"There are more than a dozen Article III judges already waiting on the Executive Calendar. And a whole bunch of the nominees currently in Committee are likely to receive bipartisan support as well," he continued. "So the Administration does not face any obstacle to moving nominees who are remotely qualified for the job. People who are mainstream and qualified have a path forward."

"The stated reason, the supposed emergency, is that Senate Democrats are unable to push through the small fraction of their nominees who are so extreme and unqualified that they cannot win a single Republican vote in Committee," McConnell stated. "Let me say that again. The far left wants the full Senate to move a Senator off a committee so they can ram through a small sliver of their nominees who are especially extreme or unqualified."

The Senate GOP Leader referenced four specific examples of nominees who failed to garner bipartisan support for various reasons, and said, "It’s purely the Democrats’ political choice to hold the relatively more reasonable nominees hostage so the unqualified ones can move in a pack. So, even though they could move a number of less controversial nominees right now, they want to sideline Senator Feinstein so they can ram through the worst four as well."

"I understand our Judiciary Committee colleagues report they cannot find a single past example where their Committee let a member be 'temporarily replaced' in the fashion that some Democrats want," McConnell concluded. "Senate Republicans will not take part in sidelining a temporarily-absent colleague off a committee just so Democrats can force through their very worst nominees."

Graham formally objects to replacement effort

Roll Call reported that Sen. Schumer announced on Tuesday that he had nominated Sen. Ben Cardin (D-MD) to be Sen. Feinstein's temporary replacement "in honoring her wishes until she returns to the Senate."

For his part, Cardin, who previously served on the Judiciary Committee, said in a statement, "I look forward to her full recovery and return to the Senate. In the meantime, and with her blessing, I am honored that Majority Leader Schumer has recommended me as a temporary replacement on the Judiciary Committee."

However, when Committee Chair Dick Durbin (D-IL) brought the matter up for a vote among the evenly split panel, ranking Republican member Lindsey Graham (R-SC) objected to what he described as a patently clear effort to ram through nominees who "should never be on the bench."

"This is about a handful of judges that you can't get the votes for, and I have been a pretty consistent vote in the Judiciary Committee in a bipartisan fashion," Graham said. "I understand that you won the election and we lost and I want to make sure we process judges fairly."

Committee member Sen. Josh Hawley (R-MO) said of the Feinstein replacement effort, "They want her to resign. I mean, they forced her out of the chairmanship of the Judiciary Committee," and added, "They're trying to force her to resign. You've got the congressman from her own state calling on her to resign. I mean, they're trying to force her out of office, which is, you know, really, I think unseemly."