Dianne Feinstein to step down as top Democrat on Senate Judiciary Committee following Supreme Court hearing backlash

Danielle Zoellner
·2-min read
Senator Dianne Feinstein has announced she will not seek a chair position within the Senate Judiciary Committee (AP)
Senator Dianne Feinstein has announced she will not seek a chair position within the Senate Judiciary Committee (AP)

Senator Dianne Feinstein of California has announced she will not pursue the top position among Democrats on the Senate Judiciary Committee.

“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," the 87-year-old said on Monday.

She added that California was facing “two existential threats” – wildfires and droughts – which was where she would focus her efforts as a senator.

But the decision from the Democrat comes after she faced scrutiny from members of her party for her performance during Supreme Court Justice Amy Coney Barrett’s Senate confirmation hearings – specifically when she praised Republican Lindsey Graham, the chair of the Senate Judiciary committee, for his handlings of the process.

“This has been one of the best set of hearings that I’ve participated in,” Ms Feinstein told the Republican. “It leaves one with a lot of hopes, a lot of questions and even some ideas perhaps of good bipartisan legislation we can put together.”

Following the hearing, Ms Feinstein even went as far as to hug her Republican colleague – a move that sparked swift blowback as it went against the Democratic narrative that Republicans wrongly sped up the Supreme Court nomination after the party blocked President Barak Obama’s justice pick in 2016.

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer went as far as to reveal he had a “long and serious” talk with Ms Feinstein after the hearing.

If the Democratic Party were to win the two George Senate runoffs in January, they would gain control over the US Senate. Ms Feinstein would’ve been poised to take the chairmanship of the Senate Judiciary, making her the first female to hold that position.

But Ms Feinstein’s seniority and age within the Democratic Party, outside her performance during the recent Supreme Court hearings, could’ve factored into her decision to step down from consideration. In 2018, when she ran for a sixth term at the age of 85, speculation sparked on whether the politician would stay through her entire term.

The Democratic senator has held a place in the US Senate since 1992, making her one of the more senior members of not only the Democratic Party, but Congress in general. Her politics have largely veered just left of centre, causing a problem among the younger members of her party who are more progressive.

Senate Minority Whip Dick Durbin of Illinois is next in line to take the top position for the Democratic Party in the Senate Judiciary Committee, followed by Senator Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island.

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