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Why Democrats Don’t Want Dianne Feinstein to Resign

Concerns about the health of 90-year-old Senator Dianne Feinstein have intensified but senior Democrats may be reluctant for her to resign because of her membership of the powerful Senate Judiciary Committee and concerns that Republicans could seek to block her replacement with another Democrat.

The committee currently has 11 Democratic members, versus 10 Republicans, meaning the president’s party needs Feinstein’s votes to avoid a tie.

Earlier this month reports said she had ceded power of attorney to her daughter in an ongoing financial dispute over the estate of her late husband, Richard Blum.

Feinstein was also briefly hospitalized in her home state of California after a fall on Tuesday, sparking renewed calls for her to resign. Earlier this year Feinstein was away from Congress for several weeks while being treated for shingles, frustrating the confirmation of some of President Joe Biden’s judicial nominees.

Senator Dianne Feinstein
Dianne Feinstein attends a business hearing of the Senate Judiciary Committee in Washington, D.C., on May 11, 2023. Feinstein has been facing calls to resign, but Republicans could frustrate the replacement of any successor to the powerful committee.
Drew Angerer/GETTY

If Feinstein were to step aside her replacement would be chosen by California Governor Gavin Newsom. However, senior Republicans have refused to say whether they will obstruct their appointment to the Judiciary Committee. Typically senators are assigned to committees by unanimous cross-party consent. But this isn’t a given, and such appointments are subject to debate, which can be filibustered.

Newsweek has approached Senator Feinstein for comment via the online contact form on her official website.

In April, Senator John Cornyn, a former member of the Senate Republican leadership who serves on the committee, refused to say the GOP would support getting Feinstein’s replacement onto the Judiciary Committee if she resigns early. Speaking to reporters he said: “We’ll cross that bridge…when we come to it.”

During the same month Republican Senator Marsha Blackburn, another committee member, tweeted: “I will not go along with Chuck Schumer’s plan to replace Senator Feinstein on the Judiciary Committee and pack the court with activist judges. Joe Biden wants the Senate to rubber stamp his unqualified and controversial judges to radically transform America.”

Speaking to Newsweek, Thomas Whalen, an associate professor at Boston University who teaches modern American politics, said Democratic concerns that the GOP might refuse to back a replacement for Feinstein should be taken seriously.

He commented: “Such a scenario cannot be ruled out given the current state of dysfunction on Capitol Hill. It’s gotten to the point where we’ve really become an ungovernable nation. The world’s greatest deliberating body needs to deliberate on that.”

Feinstein insists she is medically fit to take her place in Congress. After her fall on Tuesday her spokesperson sent Newsweek a statement that said: “Senator Feinstein briefly went to the hospital yesterday afternoon as a precaution after a minor fall in her home. All of her scans were clear and she returned home.”

Health concerns have also been raised about Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, who at 81 is the fourth-oldest serving senator. Last month a video of him struggling to speak during his weekly press conference went viral, and at the weekend he was heckled by people chanting “retire”during an event in Kentucky.

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