Apr 17, 2023 - Politics & Policy

GOP senators dig in against Feinstein committee swap

Sen. Dianne Feinstein. Photo: Kent Nishimura / Los Angeles Times via Getty Images.

Top Senate Republicans on Monday signaled widespread opposition within their conference to temporarily replacing Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) on the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Why it matters: Republicans said temporarily replacing a senator on a committee is a virtually unprecedented action – but that if Feinstein resigns, the more routine task of filling her seats would be an easier lift.

  • Feinstein’s prolonged absence after being hospitalized for shingles in March has stalled Democrats’ efforts to advance judicial nominees.
  • "It hasn't happened before," Sen. Deb Fischer (R-Neb.) said of temporarily swapping a committee seat. "I see the predicament that the Democrats are in, but they need to settle that."

The state of play: More than a half dozen Senate Republicans, including members of leadership, told Axios they would vote against Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer's (D-N.Y.) effort to temporarily substitute Feinstein.

  • “I don’t think there is any appetite on our side to help what we consider to be controversial or unqualified nominees to get confirmed,” said Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas).
  • Even moderate Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) said she opposes the move: “There has been a concerted campaign to force her off the Judiciary Committee, and I think that’s wrong and I won’t be a part of it.”
  • The maneuver is subject to the 60-vote filibuster threshold, so Democrats need ten Republican votes.

Zoom out: If Feinstein resigns, that is a “whole different scenario which happens around here with some frequency,” said Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.), the Senate minority whip.

  • Thune suggested Democrats are “using this because they want to put pressure on her to resign, and they think this gives them a sort of lever.”
  • “I think that would be [more uncontroversial] if there was a vacancy and we were talking about all of Sen. Feinstein’s duties,” said Sen. Thom Tillis (R-N.C.).
  • “That would be a different set of circumstances … not on a temporary basis,” said Cornyn.

The other side: Blocking parties' efforts to fill committee seats could set a dangerous precedent, argued Judiciary Committee Chair Dick Durbin (D-Ill.).

  • "Tomorrow, this could happen to the Republicans," said Durbin, "They could find themselves in a vulnerable position through no fault of their own."
  • Asked if Democrats would consider changes to the filibuster, Durbin told Axios, “I hope it doesn’t reach that." He also said he won't press her to resign: “I’m not going to push her into any other decision.”
  • “The Dems are just getting back to vote now, we haven’t had a chance to be in the same room,” said Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.), “But I suspect we will be discussing it … I just hope she returns as soon as she can.

What we’re watching: Some aides and senators in both parties insist that there’s a chance negotiations could clear the logjam.

  • “We’ll allow the leadership team to negotiate the appropriate path forward,” said Sen. Mike Rounds (R-S.D.).
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