Sen. Dianne Feinstein is no longer able to perform her duties as a U.S. senator. That is, at least, the reality according to her staff, who asked the Senate majority leader to temporarily replace her on the Judiciary Committee as she approaches two months of absence over health issues.
This isn’t surprising, of course: Dianne Feinstein is 89 years old. While Americans used to joke about the fossils who ran the Soviet Union in the 1980s, Feinstein was already a full decade older than the oldest Soviet premier to ever die in office when she ran for re-election — a full five years ago.
Her mental decline has been known on Capitol Hill for years, with staff guiding her around the halls, and yet still just this year Sen. Chuck Schumer decided to let her remain on the Senate committee responsible for accomplishing the president’s judicial agenda.
She served on that committee until early March. Then finally, after six weeks away recovering from shingles, her California colleague, Rep. Ro Khanna, publicly called for her resignation. Democrats like Khanna had grown weary — between Feinstein and Pennsylvania Sen. John Fetterman, the party’s judicial agenda had been stalled since the top of March.
Hours after Khanna’s tweet, she asked to be temporarily replaced in her duties on the essential committee. Democrats are eager to comply.
But are Republicans so eager? They shouldn’t be. There’s zero reason — zero — that Republicans should cooperate with Schumer and the president on their judicial agenda, either tactically, politically, or even morally.
Republicans have the power, too: Committee assignments are decided at the beginning of the session, either by unanimous consent or, if contested, by the vote of at least 60 senators. Democrats certainly hope they can just brush this through under the former, but what reason does Sen. Josh Hawley, or maybe Sen. Mike Lee, or Sen. J.D. Vance have to let that one pass them by?
Then if one senator says no, the whole thing’s got to come to a vote, and while people like Sen. Mitt Romney might be happy to fill benches with left-wing judges in the name of “decency” or some other principle long ago extinguished by left-wing activists, getting nine other Republicans to join him might prove more difficult.
The task of persuading 10 Republicans to cooperate with the president’s judicial agenda will prove even more difficult if Sen. Mitch McConnell — himself just out of the hospital (and seven years older than Josef Stalin was when he died) — holds the line. While populist conservatives may have little love for the minority leader, they must give him credit for hard-nosed judiciary tactics.
No one’s talking about government funding here, or defense, or some other thing sacred to the old guard of the GOP. At issue is an essentially lawless administration seeding the court with the types of judges who will uphold their lawlessness. Why cooperate in that?
Weak-kneed Republicans might suggest not cooperating with the Democrats on this issue would be poor form or set a bad precedent. Those Republicans might need reminding that mild-mannered Brett Kavanaugh was falsely accused of being a serial rapist in front of the entire country. Poor form? Bad precedents? In the context of today’s political battles, those ideas hold little sway.
And let no man mention “normalcy.”
There are no more “live pairs,” wherein past senators have refrained from voting themselves to give opposing colleagues the courtesy of a necessary absence. That tradition has passed on.
Yes, senators have died in office or resigned mid-Congress before and their replacements have often been accomplished by simple consent, but first, no senator has ever asked to be temporarily replaced, and second, those were normal times. We’re beyond those now; and not only because of Kavanaugh or the sexual accusations against Clarence Thomas or even the religious interrogation of Justice Amy Coney Barrett, but because this Democratic Senate has declined to even deliberate on judicial nominees. There’s been no debate, no regular order, on the White House’s list of new judges — just a simple vote to move them through.
With what evidence can any Republican claim they would be given the same quarter if one of them threw themselves upon their colleagues’ mercy? The party that voted to impeach President Donald Trump twice was disciplined and committed in its opposition to his judicial nominees.
Even today, if left-wing activists and their allies in the press had their way, the courteous tradition of the “blue slip” (which allows senators to hold up nominees from their own states) would be abolished.
Congressional observers might point to the previous Senate, which was tied and so voted to allow for nominees to be discharged from committee even if the vote was locked in a tie, but that rule was agreed to only for that Congress and is no longer in effect. Because of this, Democrats need a majority to work the committee.
Without any procedural normalcy, returned comitatus, or shared judicial philosophies, there are no reasons to continue to cooperate with the president’s judicial agenda. And without Republican collaboration, that agenda will stall.
Politico’s liberal D.C. newsletter, Playbook, predicted Republican intransigence could lead to two different outcomes: pressure for Feinstein’s resignation, or Democrats rallying “to her defense.”
To that, a casual observer of the past seven years of vicious Democratic politics might respond: “let them rally.” The reality is Republicans have nothing to lose from resisting Democrats’ push to replace Feinstein, and everything to gain. This battle is far too deep in the weeds for independent voters to care, Democratic voters are already motivated against Republicans enough, and Republican voters are inclined to reward a little courage in the fight.
The GOP didn’t make this situation: The Democrats put an 89-year-old woman and an emotionally and mentally traumatized man into the U.S. Senate in the name of pure power politics. That play is not working out for them. Republicans can let them rally away, but they’d be fools to let them confirm.