US

Feinstein drops out of Democratic leadership in Senate

Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California on Monday announced that she is dropping out of the Senate Democratic leadership after facing a left-wing furor for her praise of Supreme Court Justice Amy Coney Barrett’s confirmation hearings.

Feinstein, 87, framed her decision not to seek another term as the “ranking member” or chairman on the Senate Judiciary Committee as a way to better focus on specific policy areas.

“After serving as the lead Democrat on the Judiciary Committee for four years, I will not seek the chairmanship or ranking member position in the next Congress,” she said in a press release.

The nation’s eldest senator faced Democratic outrage after she concluded Barrett’s confirmation hearing by hugging Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Lindsey Graham (R-SC) and praised Graham for “one of the best set of hearings that I have participated in.”

Democrats generally view Barrett’s confirmation as a hypocritical move by Republicans to replace liberal icon Ruth Bader Ginsburg. In 2016, Senate Republicans would not confirm Merrick Garland to replace conservative Justice Antonin Scalia.

“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,” Demand Justice executive director Brian Fallon said last month.

Fallon, a former national press secretary for Hillary Clinton and alum of the Obama Justice Department’s press shop, said Feinstein “has undercut Democrats’ position at every step of this process.”

He said Feinstein’s failings include “undermining calls for filibuster and Court reform straight through to thanking Republicans for the most egregious partisan power grab in the modern history of the Supreme Court.”

In Feinstein’s telling, her decision was all about voluntarily shifting gears.

“California is a huge state confronting two existential threats — wildfire and drought — that are only getting worse with climate change. In the next Congress, I plan to increase my attention on those two crucial issues,” Feinstein said.

“I also believe that defeating COVID-19, combating climate change and protecting access to health care are critical national priorities that require even more concentration.”

Illinois Sen. Dick Durbin, who has served on the Judiciary Committee for 22 years, said in a Monday night statement that he plans to replace Feinstein.

“I intend to seek the top Democratic position on the Judiciary Committee in the 117th Congress,” Durbin said.

“We have to roll up our sleeves and get to work on undoing the damage of the last four years and protecting fundamental civil and human rights.”

Control of the Senate remains in flux due to two Georgia runoff elections. Republicans will hold at least 50 seats, but if Democrats win both Georgia contests, Vice President-elect Kamala Harris will break ties for Democrats.

Feinstein made clear she wasn’t stepping away altogether.

“I look forward to continuing to serve as a senior Democrat on the Judiciary, Intelligence, Appropriations and Rules committees as we work with the Biden administration on priorities like gun safety, immigration reform and addressing inequalities in criminal justice. I will continue to do my utmost to bring about positive change in the coming years,” she said.

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