Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) defended Sen. Dianne Feinstein’s (D-CA) ability to keep serving in the Senate on Sunday amid recent calls from some Democrats for the longtime senator to step down.
“We have had so many senators who have had illnesses, whether it’s Mitch McConnell’s illnesses or senators who have had strokes,” Gillibrand said on CNN’s “State of the Union”. “We’re human. And we believe that a senator should be able to make their own judgments about when they’re retiring and when they’re not. And they all deserve a chance to get better and come back to work. Dianne will get better. She will come back to work.”
Feinstein — who sits on the Senate Judiciary Committee — has been absent from Washington since being diagnosed with shingles in late February. Since then, the 89-year-old senator has missed nearly 60 votes and without her President Biden’s judicial nominees have been stuck in the process, waiting for the votes to be advanced to the Senate floor.
Feinstein has already announced she will not run for reelection in 2024. But amid her lengthy absence, the first public call for Feinstein to resign came last Wednesday.
“It’s time for @SenFeinstein to resign,” Rep. Ro Khanna (D-CA) tweeted. “We need to put the country ahead of personal loyalty. 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.”
In response to similar calls, Feinstein quickly asked Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) to temporarily replace her in the committee.
“I understand that my absence could delay the important work of the Judiciary Committee,” she said in a statement Wednesday night. “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.”
But this is somewhat uncharted territory for Schumer. Usually a senator is replaced in a committee if a vacancy is created by a death or a resignation.
To replace Feinstein’s committee seat, Schumer will have to offer an updated organizing resolution that names a new Democratic senator to the Judiciary Committee. And the Majority Leader will need consent from all 100 senators to make this happen quickly. But Republicans are unlikely to sign off on any committee swap.
Sen. Tom Cotton (R-AR) already tweeted over the weekend that “Republicans should not assist Democrats in confirming Joe Biden’s most radical nominees to the courts.”
With Cotton apparently opposed to unanimous consent, Schumer will instead need to secure 60 votes to pass it — meaning he will need at least 10 Senate Republicans to vote for the swap.
This is not the first time questions around Feinstein’s ability to continue representing California have been raised. The trailblazing senator has faced some questions around her cognitive health recently, leading to multiple Democrats announcing bids for her seat before she even announced she would be retiring.
In January, Rep. Katie Porter (D-CA) launched a Senate campaign for Feinstein’s seat, weeks before an official announcement from the longtime senator.
Just a day later, Rep. Barbara Lee (D-CA) told lawmakers she is running for Senate in a closed-door Congressional Black Caucus meeting. Since then she has officially announced her bid and received an endorsement from Khanna.
And in late January, Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA) announced he will also be running for Senate in 2024. Within a matter of days, former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) said she would support Schiff in his bid if Feinstein decided to retire next year.