Sen. Feinstein to step down from top spot on Senate Judiciary Committee

Senate Judiciary Committee Ranking Member Dianne Feinstein announced Monday that she will step down from her seat as the ranking Democratic member of the Senate Judiciary Committee. Pool Photo by Hannah McKay/UPI

Nov. 24 (UPI) — Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California announced Monday she will step down as the top Democrat in the Senate Judiciary Committee for the upcoming Congress following criticism from progressives over her handling of the Supreme Court hearing for Amy Coney Barrett.

Feinstein, who has served as ranking member of the committee since 2017, announced her decision in a statement, saying she plans to instead focus on California’s two existential threats of wildfire and drought.

“In the next Congress, I plan to increase my attention on those two crucial issues,” she said. “I also believe that defeating COVID-19, combating climate change and protecting access to healthcare are critical national priorities that require even more concentration.”

She will continue to serve as a senior Democrat on the Judiciary, Intelligence, Appropriations and Rules committees, she said.

Though she made no mention of the Barrett Supreme Court confirmation hearings in her statement, Feinstein’s decision follows her being the target of stringent criticism from progressive organizations who demanded that she step down from the Judiciary Committee due to how she handled the situation.

Feinstein voiced strong opposition throughout the Republican Party’s push to hold Barrett’s Supreme Court hearing before the general election on Nov. 3, arguing that the GOP had blocked President Barack Obama from filling a hole on the bench in 2016 as it was an election year.

However, she became the target of progressive ire on Oct. 15, when she interjected near the end of the fourth day of the hearing to praise Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., for the manner in which it was held.

“Mr. Chairman, I just want to thank you. This has been one of the best Senate hearings that I’ve participated in. And I want to thank you for your fairness and the opportunity of going back and forth,” she said. “It leaves one with a lot of hopes, a lot of questions and even some ideas, perhaps, good bipartisan legislation we can put together to make this great country even better.”

She then hugged Graham.

Demand Justice, the Center for Popular Democracy Action, Fix Our Senate, NARAL Pro-Choice America and other liberal groups chastised her for the action and demanded she step down.

“There is nothing praiseworthy about these proceedings,” CPD Action, a group that promotes equity and democracy, said in October in a statement. “Feinstein’s performance and remarks during these hearings give yet more proof that she is ill-equipped to speak for voters. She must immediately step down from her post as ranking member of the Senate Judiciary Committee.”

NARAL derided her for legitimizing the proceedings through her praise for them and for Graham.

“This nomination is illegitimate and this process is a sham,” NARAL Pro-Choice President Ilyse Hogue said in a statement. “… Sen. Dianne Feinstein failed to make this clear and in fact offered an appearance of credibility to the proceedings that is wildly out of step with the American people.”

Days after the hearing, Senate minority leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., told reporters that “he has had a long and serious talk with Sen. Feinstein and that’s all I’ll say about it right now.”

On Monday, Schumer thanked the 87-year-old senator for her service.

“I am deeply grateful for Sen. Feinstein’s leadership and contributions to our caucus and country as the Ranking Member of the Senate Judiciary Committee of the last four years,” he said in a statement, adding that her experience “will continue to be an asset for our caucus, California and the country as we begin a new term with the new president.”

Following the criticism, Feinstein issued a statement saying that after the Republicans said they would move ahead with the nomination the only thing they could do as a minority in the Senate is to show “this nominee would radically alter the court, and we accomplished that.”

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