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Dianne Feinstein, Welcome Back!
Welcome back welcome back welcome baaaack.
Sen. Dianne Feinstein is set to return to the Senate today after being sidelined since early March, when she was hospitalized for shingles, which is no joke when you're 89. During her absence, Feinstein missed 91 floor votes, and she was particularly missed on the Judiciary Committee, where she's the tiebreaking 11th Democratic vote and crucial for sending judicial nominees on to the full Senate for a vote.
Republicans, you'll recall, absolutely refused to go along with a plan to seat Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Maryland) as a temporary replacement for Feinstein on the Judiciary Committee, because with the panel split 10-10, Republicans could block any Biden nominees from moving forward, and could also prevent the committee from issuing any subpoenas. Democrats will certainly remember this in the future when some key Republican senator is hospitalized in a health crisis. (And then they'll very politely allow a replacement anyway, and we'll all point to April 2023 and say WTF guys?)
While Feinstein was away, the Judiciary Committee did manage to advance seven Biden nominees that were acceptable to Republicans, and Feinstein issued a statement last week saying that there "has been no slowdown," adding,
“I’m confident that when I return to the Senate, we will be able to move the remaining qualified nominees out of committee quickly and to the Senate floor for a vote.”
Now that Feinstein is back, Judiciary can get right back to the one thing that Democrats in the Senate can reliably do with the House under Republican control. Feinstein may also provide a crucial vote in passing a last-minute increase in the debt ceiling, assuming that nine Republican votes can be found in the Senate to avoid a little worldwide economic crash — which may be more of an assumption than anyone should be comfortable with.
Three California Democrats in the House — Reps. Barbara Lee, Katie Porter, and Adam Schiff — are running in the 2024 primary election to replace Feinstein, who has announced she plans to retire. Her return to the Senate, Politico notes, leaves that election a bit more wide open than it might have been had Feinstein retired right away. Had she stepped down, as some suggested while she was gone, California Gov. Gavin Newsom would have had to appoint a replacement, and unless he found someone who pledged to serve as a caretaker and not run for reelection, whoever he might have appointed would instantly have an advantage next year. (Politico really digs that kind of what-if, almost to the exclusion of everything else, and it's annoying.)
Over at Slate, Jim Newell — Hi Jim! — discusses Feinstein's absence and return in terms of the realest realpolitik there is for Democrats in the second half of Biden's term, where Judiciary Chair Dick Durbin's main job is "Rebalancing, and conducting oversight on, a federal judiciary that moved historically to the right during the Trump presidency, as chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee." He notes that, despite worries there'd be a shortage of judicial nominees to vote on because Feinstein was out, there are "still plenty of nominees available for Senate floor votes now," and with Feinstein back on the committee, the next pressing fight for Durbin is likely to be fights over the "blue slip" rule, a "classically stuffy tradition" that allows a senator to put a block on a judicial nominee for their state, and which only Democrats ever honor in the majority even though it fucks them every time:
Of the remaining district court vacancies Democrats hope to fill this Congress , a much higher percentage of them are in red states than the ones approved in the last Congress. Progressive activist groups predict pure Republican obstructionism going forward, and insist that Durbin do away with the “blue slip” tradition for district court nominees altogether.
Durbin hasn’t committed to such a move yet—and frankly, there are only a couple of nominees knowingly held up for blue-slip reasons at the moment—though he’s keeping the threat on the table to hold Republicans in line. “I want to keep the blue slip,” Durbin told CNN in February. “I think it’s a good thing, but we need cooperation.”
On top of that, there's also the string of ethical fuckbungles by Supreme Court justices, and Newell notes that Durbin has relatively few options to actually hold the Supremes accountable since any real action would require some Republicans to get on board, and good luck with that. Newell points out that, with Feinstein's return, Durbin also has an option that he might not actually want to use:
The other option, as more of a theatrical exercise, would be to haul Supreme Court justices before Durbin’s committee and grill them on their lax ethical codes. Durbin tried this, at first, by writing a polite letter to Chief Justice John Roberts asking him to testify before the Judiciary Committee. Roberts responded with a polite letter of his own telling Durbin to pound sand.
The more aggressive option would be to subpoena a Supreme Court justice. That would likely make Durbin, and plenty of other senators concerned about the separation of powers, deeply uncomfortable. For weeks, Durbin had a convenient out: He couldn’t approve a subpoena so long as Sen. Feinstein was away from the Senate, as tie-breaking votes can’t be made by proxy in the committee.
So now that subpoenas are an option, just kidding, they are absolutely definitely not going to do that.
And that is how Dok wrote an entire post about Dianne Feinstein returning to the Senate (good, yay, important!) and not mentioning once the years of coverage establishing she's got pretty bad dementia and probably should resign.
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