Senate Republicans are hoping to block Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., from appointing a temporary replacement for 89-year-old Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., on the Judiciary Committee.
The longtime California Democrat has been sidelined since early March after her office announced she was being treated for shingles at a San Francisco hospital.
Her absence has hamstrung Democrats’ ability to confirm President Joe Biden’s judicial nominees, which the Senate had been doing at breakneck pace, and there is still no clear timeline on when she’s expected to return.
But replacing her on the committee would require a Senate resolution that needs 60 votes to pass. Republicans have already refused to grant Democrats the ability to nominate a new committee member by unanimous consent, as most committee assignments are handled, and it’s not clear yet if Schumer will get 10 Republicans on board for a move that would effectively help Biden continue pushing through progressive nominees that the GOP opposes.
Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, a senior Republican on the Judiciary committee, indicated on the Senate floor that he was opposed to helping Schumer temporarily replace Feinstein.
His remarks also suggested that the GOP was only refusing to move on Democrats’ “most controversial” nominees, putting the onus on Biden to nominate more moderate picks that could get bipartisan support.
“Never, not once, have we allowed temporary substitutes on committees, and now is not the time to start. Republicans are not going to break this precedent in order to bail out Senator Schumer or the Biden administration’s most controversial nominees,” Cornyn said. “Senator Feinstein has been a mainstay of this body for more than three decades, and I hope to see her back in these halls soon. But until then, President Biden’s most controversial, partisan judicial nominees would have to wait.”
Without Feinstein, the Senate Judiciary panel is left with an equal number of Republicans and Democrats, meaning Biden’s nominees are unable to advance out of committee. Feinstein has not cast a vote in Congress since mid-February.
Sen. Thom Tillis, R-N.C., another member of the committee, wrote in a statement on Monday, “I will vote against any attempt by Senate Democrats to temporarily replace Sen. Feinstein on the Judiciary Committee. I deeply respect Senator Feinstein, but this is an unprecedented request solely intended to appease those pushing for radical, activist judges.”
Senate Judiciary Republican Sen. Marsha Blackburn, R-Tenn., also announced her opposition earlier this morning.
“I will not go along with Chuck Schumer’s plan to replace Senator Feinstein on the Judiciary Committee and pack the court with activist judges. Joe Biden wants the Senate to rubber stamp his unqualified and controversial judges to radically transform America,” Blackburn said.
Feinstein said earlier this year that she would retire when her current term ends in January 2025. But her extended absence and questions about her mental acuity have spurred calls from some of her fellow Democrats to step down earlier.