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Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), the top Democrat on the Senate Judiciary Committee, was widely criticized by liberal groups on Thursday after she gave Chairman Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) a hug and called Supreme Court nominee Amy Coney Barrett's confirmation hearings “one of the best" that she's participated in.

Why it matters: Democrats have cast the Republican effort to confirm Barrett in an election year as "illegitimate," warning that it will shatter norms and transform the court for decades.

  • The 87-year-old Feinstein's amenable approach to the hearing has drawn widespread frustration among liberals who were seeking more aggressive opposition.
  • Some critics pointed out on Twitter that Graham is in a highly competitive re-election race with Democratic challenger Jaime Harrison, and that Feinstein's praise for the top Trump ally could have an impact.

What happened: "Chairman, I just want to thank you," Feinstein said in her closing statement. "This has been one of the best set of hearings that I've participated in and I want to thank you for your fairness and the opportunity of going back and forth."

  • "It leaves one with a lot of hopes, a lot of questions, and even some ideas of perhaps some good bipartisan legislation we can put together to make this country even better. So thank you so much for your leadership."
  • Graham replied: "I know we have very different views about the judge and whether we should be doing this or not. But having said all that, to my Democratic colleagues, you have challenged the judge, you have challenged us, and I accept those challenges as being sincere and not personal."

What they're saying: “It's time for Sen. Feinstein to step down from her leadership position on the Senate Judiciary Committee. If she won't, her colleagues need to intervene," said Brian Fallon, executive director of the judicial advocacy group Demand Justice.

  • "She has undercut Democrats' position at every step of this process, from undermining calls for filibuster and Court reform straight through to thanking Republicans for the most egregious partisan power grab in the modern history of the Supreme Court."
  • "If Senate Democrats are going to get their act together on the courts going forward, they cannot be led by someone who treats Sunrise activists with contempt and the Republican theft of a Supreme Court seat with kid gloves.”

The progressive organizing group Indivisible tweeted: "Nothing says "this process is an illegitimate sham" quite like hugging it out with the guy who's in charge of the illegitimate sham."

  • "Senator Feinstein's behavior today was a perfect summation of why we can't just elect Democrats — we need to hold them accountable too."

The big picture: Feinstein has long been a target of progressive criticism, perhaps most notably when she told children organized by the Sunrise Movement in a viral video last year that the Green New Deal was "impractical."

Go deeper

Updated Jan 19, 2021 - Politics & Policy

Biden Cabinet confirmation schedule: When to watch hearings

Joe Biden and Kamala Harris on Jan. 16 in Wilmington, Delaware. Photo: Angela Weiss/AFP via Getty Images

Hearings for President Biden's Cabinet nominations to lead the Departments of Transportation, Commerce, Energy, and Veterans' Affairs started Tuesday.

Why it matters: It's been a slow start for a process that usually takes place days or weeks earlier for new and incoming presidents.

Coronavirus has inflamed global inequality

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

History will likely remember the pandemic as the "first time since records began that inequality rose in virtually every country on earth at the same time." That's the verdict from Oxfam's inequality report covering the year 2020 — a terrible year that hit the poorest, hardest across the planet.

Why it matters: The world's poorest were already in a race against time, facing down an existential risk in the form of global climate change. The coronavirus pandemic could set global poverty reduction back as much as a full decade, according to the World Bank.

2 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Kevin McCarthy's rude awakening

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy. Photo: Mark Wilson/Getty Images

Kevin McCarthy is learning you can get torched when you try to make everyone happy, especially after an insurrection.

Why it matters: The House Republican leader had been hoping to use this year to build toward taking the majority in 2022, but his efforts to bridge intra-party divisiveness over the Capitol siege have him taking heat from every direction, eroding his stature both with the public and within his party.