Sen. Dianne Feinstein was a sharp and politically attuned woman — about 20 years ago.
But the fight over the nomination to replace Justice Ginsburg on the Supreme Court isn’t happening in the 2oth Century — it’s happening in the 21st Century, and there are whispers starting in the media that some Democrats in Senate don’t think she’s up to the task of leading the fight against whoever Pres. Trump nominates to replace Justice Ginsburg.
This is not idle chatter — the story is out today in Politico, a Democrat “Insider” publication that gets first call on important issues.
Interviews with more than a dozen Democratic senators and aides show widespread concern over whether the California Democrat is capable of leading the aggressive effort Democrats need against whoever President Donald Trump picks to replace the late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.
Feinstein and her staff are going to see this as a meaningful shot across her bow by someone with authority, and the unspoken authority had to have come from Sen. Chuck Schumer’s office. Sen. Feinstein didn’t take the attack lying down.
In a phone interview, Feinstein pushed back hard against suggestions she could no longer effectively serve as ranking member of the Judiciary panel or is incapable of handling the upcoming nomination fight.
“I’m really surprised and taken aback by this. Because I try to be very careful and I’m puzzled by it,” Feinstein told POLITICO. “My attendance is good, I do the homework, I try to ask hard questions. I stand up for what I believe in.”
Let’s start with a couple of objective facts — Dianne Feinstein is now 87 years old and has been in one political office or another for 50 years.
Although she’s been on the Judiciary Committee for many years, she’s not an attorney.
I don’t say that merely to suggest that only attorneys can/should serve on the Judiciary Committee — GOP Sen. Chuck Grassley is not an attorney and he has been Chairman of the Committee — but having the education, training, and experience of being an attorney is certainly a great asset when you want to closely examine a respected federal judge on questions of judicial precedent and the role of the courts in the government.
But the concerns raised by the Politico story aren’t just whether Feinstein has the “legal chops” to handle the Committee hearing, but also whether she reflects a failure in the Senate on the Democrat side to accept the generational shift to younger and more combative left-wing agitators in the House like AOC, Ted Lieu, and Eric Swalwell.
But there are also concerns that the manner in which she bungled the opposition to Brett Kavanaugh — waiting until just shortly before the scheduled hearing before disclosing the letter she received from one of Kavanaugh’s accusers setting forth the allegations of sexual misconduct going back to high school. Her actions were immediately subject to criticism as being a cynical ploy to delay the confirmation process, as she could have disclosed the letter to Chairman Grassley and the FBI much earlier, and allowed the matter to be included in the first background investigation done by the FBI. Feinstein had also kept the letter a secret from other Democrats as well, many of whom only learned of it after its existence was leaked to the media.
It also came out in the accuser’s testimony that she was referred to her lawyer, noted Democrat-connected “MeToo” attorney Deborah Katz, by Feinstein’s office.
Feinstein was unable before the cameras to offer a convincing explanation for her delay and contacts with the accuser and the accuser’s attorney. Sen. Lindsey Graham called for a Senate investigation into Feinstein’s conduct.
A Democratic senator, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said a group of Feinstein’s colleagues want Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) or Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) to serve as the top Democrat on the Judiciary panel for the upcoming nomination hearings, which are expected to be extraordinarily contentious. This senator is worried that potential missteps by Feinstein could cost Democrats seats.
That’s a reference to the fact that in 2018, while the Democrats enjoyed large gains in the House of Representatives, four incumbent Democrat Senators were defeated for re-election. All four had voted against Kavanaugh’s confirmation after the highly charged and polarized hearing that resulted from Feinstein’s decision to sit on the accuser’s letter until the eve of the hearings.
Her handling of the Kavanaugh hearings also brings back memories of the blatant anti-Catholic bigotry she showed in questioning Judge Amy Coney Barrett, thought to be a leading candidate to be nominated to replace Justice Ginsburg. In questioning Judge Barrett about something she had written as an academic in 1998 that touched on how a practicing Catholic judge might deal with legal issues that conflict with Church doctrine, in response to one of her answers, Sen. Feinstein remarked “The dogma lives loudly in you.” There is no question but that Feinstein is going to be reminded of that remark if Judge Barrett is the choice, and her expressed bigotry makes any kind of questioning of Judge Barrett that touches on “moral” issues to be radioactive as a veiled attack on her faith. If anything, Sen. Feinstein’s comment in 2017 probably serves as a “vaccination” against any meaningful effort to explore how her faith might intersect with her views of the role of a Supreme Court Justice.
But apart from the substance of how she handles her participation, critics in the Democrat party are directly pointing to her age as a problem — which, given the fact that the party has nominated Dementia Joe for President, belongs in the Hall of Fame for “Chutzpah”.
Feinstein sometimes gets confused by reporters’ questions, or will offer different answers to the same question depending on where or when she’s asked. Her appearance is frail.
Feinstein relies heavily on her ever-present staff to deal with any issues, frequently turning to them for help in responding to inquiries.
She’s only made two floor speeches in the last nine months, her last being in early July, although she remains active in committee hearings.
Other Democrats privately said there have been complaints to party leaders that Feinstein is not capable of handling the Judiciary post in the current situation. Some of these senators said Feinstein should have retired rather than run for reelection in 2018 at age 85. Feinstein’s age was an issue in that campaign and was raised repeatedly in news reports,
But once again, the ironic beauty of the stupidity of “identity group” politics that defines the modern Democrat party likely has the final word, and trumps all evidence and common sense.
Another Democratic senator said party leaders were “in an impossible position,” pointing out that Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y) and other senior Democrats can’t replace a female senator for hearings on an expected female nominee to replace a deceased female Supreme Court justice.
The GOP would be hard-pressed to design a better “opposition” than the Democrats willingly provide on their own.