Apr 19, 2023 - Politics & Policy

Women lawmakers come to Feinstein's defense

Photo: Al Drago/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Women across the aisle are defending Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), saying they see sexism and ageism in the calls for her to resign from Congress.

Why it matters: These women say Feinstein should determine when her political career ends, not others in her party frustrated by her absence.

  • "To me it’s ageist and it’s sexist," said Sen. Joni Ernst (R-Iowa). "[I]f it were a dude would they be saying you need to step down, or you need to recuse yourself from a committee?"
  • "I don’t know if it’s age discrimination, sex discrimination, but we do know they wouldn’t do it to a man," said Sen. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.).

Zoom in: Feinstein, 89, is the oldest member of Congress — and her absence while hospitalized for shingles has made it harder for Senate Democrats to push judicial nominees through committee.

  • "She has the right, in my opinion, to decide when she steps down,” Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) said Sunday on CNN.
  • “It’s interesting to me ... I’ve never seen them go after a man who was sick in the Senate in that way,” said Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) last week.
  • "When women age or get sick, the men are quick to push them aside. When men age or get sick, they get a promotion," tweeted Rep. Norma Torres (D-Calif.).
  • On Meet the Press, Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wisc.) said "it's up to" Feinstein to determine if she should resign but was "pleased" the lawmaker asked for a fill-in on the Judiciary Committee.

What's next: Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) plans to hold a vote on temporarily replacing Feinstein, he said on Tuesday.

  • Schumer added he hopes Feinstein can return to the Senate, but he wants Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.) to serve in her absence on Judiciary.
  • Democrats will need at least ten Republicans to back temporarily replacing Feinstein on Judiciary and that effort is likely doomed.
  • Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) told HuffPost that he doesn't expect "any Republicans to cooperate."

Between the lines: Rep Ro Khanna (D-Calif.), one of the first to call for Feinstein to resign, said he isn't operating on a double standard between men and women.

  • “The call for [Sen. Feinstein] to retire is simply based on her missing over 75 percent of votes, not having a clear return date, and having had years of issues fulfilling her duty," he told Axios.
  • He noted that more lawmakers, including Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.), recently said Feinstein should consider resigning due to her absence.

Behind the scenes. Multiple Democratic women in Congress support efforts to replace Feinstein on the Judiciary Committee — and even the Senate — but they won't go public, aides told Axios.

  • A senior Democratic aide said his boss sees a double standard between men and women lawmakers but believes Feinstein's issues are impacting her ability to do her job.
  • Another Democratic aide told Axios that his boss has never believed that Feinstein should remain in her position giving her health concerns.
  • A senior staffer for a male senator said more male lawmakers might resist calls for her resignation to avoid accusations of sexism.
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