The Senate has a Dianne Feinstein problem: The 89-year-old California lawmaker has been MIA for weeks as she recovers from being hospitalized for shingles, and her absence is holding up crucial votes on federal judges. Following public outcry last week, Feinstein said she’d asked to be “temporarily” replaced on the judiciary committee, when she should permanently step down from the committee or simply resign altogether.
We’ve now reached the part of the news cycle where her fellow lawmakers—particularly women—are being asked about this clown show on TV and definitely making it worse. Former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) implied that sexism was afoot. She told KTVU, “I’ve never seen them go after a man who was sick in the Senate in that way,” as if it’s a virtuous feminist fight to support an octogenarian who appeared not to know that their own retirement announcement had gone out. (What’s actually feminist is fighting for the Senate to be able to confirm Biden’s judicial picks at a time when abortion rights are extremely under assault!)
We were also blessed with this tweet from Rep. Norma Torres (D-Calif.) saying that the calls for Feinstein to retire were the result of both ageism and sexism and implying that this is a human rights issue???
Then three Democratic senators—Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), and Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.)—were far too nice on the Sunday shows about a woman who has almost two years left in her Senate term. Gillibrand was the worst, saying on CNN’s State of the Union that it was Feinstein’s “right” to stay in the Senate for her full term, to which she was elected at age 85.
“We’re human. We believe that a Senator should be able to make their own judgments about when they’re retiring and when they’re not, and they all deserve a chance to get better and come back to work. Dianne will get better. She will come back to work,” Gillibrand said way too confidently given the woman’s age. “And she’s already told Senator Schumer that that he can replace her on the judiciary committee, if it’s urgent for these hearings for judges. She’s a team player, and she’s an extraordinary member of the Senate. It’s her right. She’s been voted by her state to be senator for six years, she has the right in my opinion to decide when she steps down.”
Gillibrand noted that other members of Congress have had health issues, including strokes. While she didn’t name Sen. John Fetterman (D-Pa.), the insinuation was obvious. But Fetterman returned to the Senate today, whereas people close to Feinstein are not confident that she will actually return to D.C. and floated to Politico that she’d finish her term remotely. While there are lots of jobs that lend themselves to full-time remote work, U.S. Senator isn’t one of them.
Meanwhile, Klobuchar said on ABC’s This Week that Feinstein’s absence is only a problem if it continues for several months(!) more. “Months down the road here, I think you get to that moment of that decision point,” she said. “But right now, she says she’s going to return. Let’s make sure that happens—and it sure better happen before the debt ceiling vote.” Perhaps this is “Minnesota nice” for “I’ll serve your ass on a platter if you aren’t back by the summer” but it’s frankly too hard to tell.
Klobuchar, who serves on the Judiciary Committee alongside Feinstein, said she “made the right decision to step off” the committee. Except Feinstein didn’t do that—she asked for a the equivalent of a benchwarmer.
Baldwin said on NBC’s Meet the Press, “I’m pleased that she has made the decision to have a fill-in on her seat on the Judiciary Committee. I think that is really an important and responsible thing to do during her absence.”
This is bullshit—asking for a replacement very likely won’t work. Sen. Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) can’t replace Feinstein on the committee without a minimum of 60 votes, and there’s no way in hell 10 Republicans are going to make it easier for the Biden administration to confirm more judges. Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) and Sen. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.) are already publicly saying they won’t support it.
When asked about the prospect of Republicans blocking that vote, Klobuchar said, “I don’t know, I sure hope not, because that is against the precedent of the Senate and how we’ve run things.” Oh, well in that case, the Senate definitely wouldn’t vote on a Supreme Court nominee during a presidential election year! By all means, let’s waste a bunch of time, when the federal courts have been lit on fire.
No, the only solution here is for her to resign—and it’s become sadly apparent that she needs to be publicly pressured to do the right thing. If Senate Democrats are too scared to call for this, they’re giant babies, but if someone’s simply afraid to go first, they could release a joint statement at the same time. You know, like 8-year-olds who need to hold a friend’s hand to jump into the pool.