On Tuesday, Republicans formally rejected a request by Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer to temporarily replace the senator. Dianne Feinstein on the Judiciary Committee, Democrats hope to do to advance stalled judicial nominations.
Senate Democrats are seeking to temporarily replace Feinstein on the powerful panel handling judicial nominees, as the California Democrat remains absent and recovers from shingles.
Senate Republicans, however, have made clear they are ready to block Democratic efforts to replace Feinstein on the committee, ramping up pressure on the 89-year-old California Democrat to resign or return quickly.
Feinstein’s return date remains unclear, and she only last week asked to “temporarily” replace a member of the committee while she recovers.
On Tuesday, Schumer introduced his motion by talking about his friendship with Feinstein and highlighting her accomplishments.
“Today, I am acting not only as a leader, but as a friend of Diane, to respect her wishes until she returns to the Senate,” Schumer said.
Lindsey Graham, the top Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee, opposed Schumer’s request, though he also praised the California Democrat. He argued that Schumer’s move was an attempt to get more judges confirmed.
“She was a great friend and we wish her a speedy recovery and return to the Senate. With all due respect, my colleague, Senator Schumer, this is about the few justices you can’t get votes for,” Graham said.
Democrats could still force a vote to replace Feinstein, but that would require the support of 10 Republicans, and they’re unlikely to spend much of their precious speaking time on something with little chance of success.
Feinstein, who has announced she is not seeking re-election, initially said she hoped to return to Washington “before the end of her work term in March,” but her return was delayed “due to ongoing complications related to my diagnosis.”
She recently said she plans to return “as soon as my medical team advises that it is safe for me to travel”.
Cardan told CNN on Tuesday that he had discussed with Schumer an interim replacement for the committee, but he had not discussed the decision with Feinstein.
The Maryland Democrat said he and Feinstein hadn’t spoken since Feinstein left the Senate, and it was his understanding that it was a temporary move until she returned.
“I recognize the importance of the number of committee members so that we can conduct business. I see this as a way of dealing with the current situation,” Cardin said.
Democrats need 60 votes to replace Feinstein on the panel, but senior Republicans in the leadership and committee made clear Monday they would not give them the votes to do so. At least a dozen or more candidates could be sidelined if Feinstein doesn’t return soon.
If Democrats fail to replace Feinstein, or if she doesn’t return to Washington soon, they could see setbacks on key agenda items — both in committees and in the Senate.
Asked whether the California Democrat should consider resigning if she doesn’t return by May, Schumer replied that he “hopes” she returns “soon.”
“Look, I spoke to Senator Feinstein a few days ago and she and I both very much want her back soon,” Schumer said at his weekly policy news conference at the U.S. Capitol.
Feinstein announced in February that she would not be running for re-election, and some Democrats have launched a campaign for her seat in 2024 in a hotly contested primary.
Many congressional Democrats still largely support her decision to stay in office because she was away from the Capitol while she recovered from shingles.
But Feinstein is already facing calls from two House Democrats to resign — a number that could start to grow if Democrats fail to replace her on committees.
Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Dick Durbin recently acknowledged to CNN that Feinstein’s absence has slowed the party’s process of confirming its nominee. But Durbin stopped short of calling for Feinstein’s resignation, saying he hoped Republicans would help temporarily replace her on the committee, recognizing that “it’s going to rain on both sides of the road.”
Asked whether her absence would have a longer-term impact on the Democratic Party’s ability to confirm a nominee, the Illinois Democrat said, “Yes, of course there is,” referring to the valuable Time for nominees to schedule the lengthy process of voting.
John Cornyn, the ranking Republican on the Judiciary Committee and a close adviser to McConnell, told CNN he opposes efforts to replace Feinstein on the panel.
“I don’t think Republicans can and shouldn’t help President Biden’s most controversial nominee,” the Texas Republican said. “I support Jean Feinstein coming back as soon as possible. But with this effort to confirm a contested and in many cases largely unqualified nominee, I don’t think you can expect any Republican cooperation.”
This story has been updated with more information.