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Senate Democrats fail to replace Feinstein on Judiciary Committee over GOP objections

Sen. Feinstein asks for Judiciary replacement
Sen. Dianne Feinstein asks for Judiciary replacement as Congress returns from break 03:56

Washington — Senate Democrats tried and failed Tuesday to temporarily appoint a replacement for Sen. Dianne Feinstein on the powerful Judiciary Committee, with Republicans objecting to a request that would have allowed Democrats to push through judicial nominations as she recovers from an illness.

The California Democrat has missed dozens of votes since she was diagnosed with shingles and briefly hospitalized in February. Last week, she asked Majority Leader Chuck Schumer to replace her on the Judiciary Committee until she could return to Washington, which she vowed to do "as soon as possible once my medical team advises that it's safe for me to travel." 

Her absence left the Judiciary Committee split along party lines, meaning the panel's Democratic members can't push through President Biden's judicial nominees without Republican support.

Following a meeting of the Senate Democratic leadership on Tuesday, Schumer said he wanted Sen. Ben Cardin, a Democrat of Maryland, to temporarily replace Feinstein on the committee. 

On the Senate floor, Schumer requested unanimous consent to make the switch, which prompted an objection by GOP Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina. 

"With all due respect to my colleague Sen. Schumer, this is about a handful of judges that you can't get the votes for," Graham said. 

Over the past two days, Senate Republicans were adamant that they would oppose Democrats' plan to replace Feinstein, citing their objections to the president's judicial nominees as well as the seemingly unprecedented nature of the request.

"Let's be clear: Senate Republicans will not take part in sidelining a temporarily absent colleague off a committee just so Democrats can force through their very worst nominees," Sen. Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said Tuesday, calling Feinstein a "titanic figure" and a "stateswoman."

Graham, the ranking member on the Judiciary Committee, noted earlier that he did not think there was an "appetite" among his Republican colleagues to appoint a temporary replacement. 

"I don't think this is a good precedent for the Senate," he said. "I doubt if any Republican would do that." 

A handful of House Democrats have called on Feinstein to resign due to her long absence from the Senate, including California Rep. Ro Khanna, who wrote on Twitter that Feinstein "can no longer fulfill her duties" and should step down.

California Rep. Pete Aguilar, a member of the House Democratic leadership, said Tuesday that Feinstein should operate under her own timeline to decide when to resign. But Aguilar noted that House Democrats need every senator available as the debate over the debt ceiling continues.

"I will say that our expectation as House Democrats is that every senator is going to need to participate," Aguilar said. 

Senate Judiciary Chairman Dick Durbin explained that Democrats were trying to give Feinstein "an opportunity to return as quickly as possible," and that the committee will continue to do its work to advance judicial nominees. 

"We'll keep doing our work, but whether we can produce the nominees from the committee is really the challenge," he said. 

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