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Democrats have a big Dianne Feinstein problem

Feinstein, a necessary member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, has been away since late February.

Shortly after 11 p.m. Thursday, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis signed a bill criminalizing abortion after six weeks of pregnancy. The Republican presidential hopeful has effectively banned abortion entirely, considering most women don’t know they’re pregnant until after the six-week mark. The move underscores the remarkably dangerous climate for women in America, and makes California's Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein’s prolonged absence from Washington even more unacceptable.?

Since the ultra-conservative takeover of the Supreme Court, confirming liberal judges in the lower federal courts has been an even more crucial part of President Joe Biden’s agenda.

Since the ultra-conservative takeover of the Supreme Court that was completed by former President Donald Trump led to Roe v. Wade being overturned, confirming liberal judges in the lower federal courts has been an even more crucial part of President Joe Biden’s agenda. And it’s why during the 2022 midterms, Democrats stressed the importance of having 51 (and not just 50) senators they could count on to vote with them.?

But Feinstein, a necessary member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, has been away since late February with shingles, which means Democrats have been unable to advance any Biden nominees to the federal judiciary. As more and more Democrats call for the 89-year-old’s resignation, her defenders have spoken up. Rep. Nancy Pelosi, the California Democrat who’s the former Speaker of the House, says sexism may be the real culprit. Pelosi’s statement doesn’t acknowledge the fact that Feinstein’s absence is blocking what could be crucial wins for feminism.

Feinstein finally addressed the implications of her being away from Washington in a statement Wednesday evening. Referring to Sen. Majority Leader Chuck Schumer of New York, she wrote, “I understand that my absence could delay the important work of the Judiciary Committee. So I’ve asked Leader Schumer to ask the Senate to allow another Democratic senator to temporarily serve until I’m able to resume my committee work.”

While this may seem a noble move, it’s unlikely her wish will be granted. Schumer reportedly intends to propose Feinstein’s request to his colleagues, but it will require full Senate approval or some sort of negotiation with Republicans. And we know how well that typically goes. Without Feinstein there, there’s a tie in the number of Democrats and Republicans on the Judiciary Committee. That tie prevents Biden’s nominees from moving to a full floor vote, and while it’s nice to think Democrats could just swap in a proxy for Feinstein, it’s never that simple when it comes to partisan politics.?

“She deserves the respect to get well and be back on duty,” Pelosi told reporters Wednesday. “It’s interesting to me. I don’t know what political agendas are at work that are going after Senator Feinstein in that way. I’ve never seen them go after a man in the Senate in that way.”

While so many of our country’s current and past ills can be traced back to misogyny, this isn’t one of them. Feinstein made a conscious decision to run for reelection in 2018 at age 85. And since her reelection, there’ve been multiple stories questioning her cognitive abilities.?

This year, after her office put out a statement from her that she wouldn’t seek reelection in 2024, a reporter asked about her planned retirement. “Well, I haven’t made that decision. I haven’t released anything,” she said, seemingly forgetting about the statement that had been attributed to her. When a staffer reminded her, she replied, “You put out the statement? I should have known they put it out.”

If Feinstein were just a regular woman two months shy of her 90th birthday, then she would be left alone to live the rest of her life however she saw fit. But Feinstein isn’t any regular woman; she’s one of the most powerful in the nation, a leader whose power is being squandered by hubris. Just because you’ve had a remarkable past does not mean you have the right to jeopardize the future.

And Feinstein has shown her resistance to change. When a group of young climate activists visited her office back in 2019 and asked if she’d be a co-sponsor to Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s, D-N.Y., Green New Deal resolution, her response became the stuff of viral cringe legend.?

If Feinstein were just a regular woman two months shy of her 90th birthday, then she would be left alone to live the rest of her life however she saw fit.

“I’ve been doing this for 30 years. I know what I’ve been doing,” Feinstein told the kids and teens gathered before her. “You come in here and say it has to be my way or the highway. I’ve gotten elected. I just ran. I was elected by almost a million vote plurality and I know what I’m doing. Maybe people should listen a little bit.”

The time has come, however, for Feinstein to listen: to listen, for example, to Rep. Ro Khanna, another Democrat from California, who on Wednesday called on her to resign. “We need to put the country ahead of personal loyalty,” Khanna tweeted. “While she has had a lifetime of public service, it is obvious she can no longer fulfill her duties. Not speaking out undermines our credibility as elected representatives of the people.”

Khanna has a vested interest in Feinstein’s departure (he’s the co-chair on the campaign of Rep. Barbara Lee who’s running for Feinstein’s seat in 2024), but he’s right that Feinstein’s allies sticking by her at this moment says more about them than it does about her.?

It’s tempting to draw comparisons to Strom Thurmond, Robert Byrd, Thad Cochran, and other white male senators who held onto their positions for far longer than they should have. But that comparison breaks down when one acknowledges that American women have never had a louder political voice in America than we do now, nor in recent memory has there been such an organized and sustained effort to strip women of our rights.?

That’s why it’s essential for us to have leadership that serves as a conduit for our causes — not someone whose stubbornness impedes them. Saying Feinstein should retire does not betray disrespect for American women. To the contrary, it reveals the belief that American women deserve a senator who’s fully available to fight for us.


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