Republicans on Monday put up a blockade against the Democratic push to temporarily replace Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) on the Senate Judiciary Committee, saying there is no chance they’ll take a step that will effectively allow President Joe Biden’s most partisan judicial nominations to advance.
GOP senators of all stripes lined up in opposition Monday as they returned to the Capitol from a two-week recess partially headlined by questions about when Feinstein would be back. The six-term senator has been absent since late February due to a case of shingles, leaving the Judiciary panel deadlocked 10-10 and unable to pass partisan nominees along for floor votes.
“I, for one, am not going to help President Biden’s most unqualified nominees to get confirmed. I don’t think you’ll see us help in that effort,” said Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas), a senior member of the panel and a key ally of Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.).
At least five Republicans on the Judiciary Committee — Sens. Tom Cotton (Ark.), Thom Tillis (N.C.), Marsha Blackburn (Tenn.), John Kennedy (La.) and Cornyn — all said they would oppose the effort to replace the longtime California Democrat or saw no reason to remove her.
Kennedy said he’d take Feinstein at her word she’ll be back soon.
“I will vote against any attempt by Senate Democrats to temporarily replace Sen. Feinstein on the Judiciary Committee,” Tillis, who is often seen as among the more bipartisan senators, tweeted. “I deeply respect Senator Feinstein, but this is an unprecedented request solely intended to appease those pushing for radical, activist judges.”
And Sens. Susan Collins (Maine) and Lisa Murkowski (Alaska), two of the most moderate Republicans in the chamber, may have put the nail in the coffin of the effort, though for a different reason than some others.
“Sen. Feinstein has been an extraordinary senator and she’s a good friend of mine. During the last two years, there’s been a concerted campaign to force her off the judiciary committee, and I will have no part of that,” Collins said.
Feinstein, 89, last week asked Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) to replace her on the panel, which has had to cancel three markups in her absence. Her request came shortly after Reps. Ro Khanna (D-Calif.) and Dean Phillips (D-Minn.) called for her to resign — a call Senate Democrats aren’t ready to repeat.
But replacing her on the panel while she remains a member of the Senate would require a vote of the full chamber.
Schumer said he plans to bring up a resolution to replace her via unanimous consent this week. If that fails, as is expected, Democrats would need 60 votes to break a filibuster and make the change.
Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) told reporters that he was hopeful the requisite 10 Republicans would help their cause. He argued the shoe could be on the other foot and Republicans could be in a similar position at any time.
“She’s asked to be replaced and I hope we can achieve that. … The rain can fall on both sides of the road, and Republicans ought to think a little bit about what this means. Tomorrow they may be facing the exact same thing,” Durbin said.
He noted there have been instances of a senator helping out when a colleague on the other side of the aisle has been absent by withholding their vote.
“I hope so. I think it would speak well of the Senate. But I will tell you quite honestly, I’ve seen the opposite occur,” Durbin continued, pointing to the need for Sen. Ted Kennedy (D-Mass.) to return to Washington in 2008 to vote on Medicare legislation over the objections of his doctors. He died a year later.
Durbin did not say who he would prefer to take Feinstein’s spot and added he has not talked to Feinstein about her situation or when she could return.
Schumer has said he expects her back “soon,” with Feinstein saying in her statement last week that she hopes to be back “as soon as possible.”
However, no firm timeline is in place. Schumer declined to divulge much information on the situation during a press conference on Monday.
“She believes she will return soon. She’s very hopeful of that, and so am I,” Schumer said.
In the meantime, the backlog at the committee level will continue to sit idle until something happens one way or another. There are 14 nominees who have appeared for Judiciary Committee hearings but have not received a vote from the panel.
The panel last voted to advance a nominee on Feb. 16.
“I am concerned,” Schumer said, laying the blame for the situation at the feet of Republicans. “The real fault lies with Republicans. If you look at past Senates when Republicans were in charge, there has never been this kind of stonewalling of nominees who are qualified, who have good credentials, etcetera.”
One person who did not speak on the subject on Monday was McConnell, who returned to the Capitol after a five-week absence due to a cracked rib and a concussion. The GOP leader spoke about his return to the chamber and the ongoing battle to raise the debt ceiling in his floor remarks.
Feinstein said shortly after her shingles diagnosis that she had hoped to return by the end of March, but she recently said that she is continuing to recuperate from the illness that can be difficult to shake.
If she is removed from the panel, the move would mark another lessening of her responsibilities in recent years as her acuity as come into question. Feinstein was the leading Democrat on the panel through 2020, but she stepped aside from that post in favor of Durbin after she was heavily criticized for her handling of judge Amy Coney Barrett’s confirmation to the Supreme Court.
She also was in line to become Senate Pro Tempore earlier this year as the most senior Democrat, but Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) filled that post instead. The position would have put Feinstein third in line for the presidency.
Feinstein also announced earlier this year that she is not running for reelection.
“From my judgment, this is a matter of respect for Sen. Feinstein, and it’s extremely disappointing that Republicans would want to put politics into our committee assignments, just as we would work with them if there was a situation on their side to temporarily fill a slot,” said Sen. Debbie Stabenow (Mich.), the No. 3 Senate Democrat.
“They should be doing that for us. That’s just normal Senate courtesy,” she added.