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Tipsheet

How Dianne Feinstein's Absence Is Causing a Headache for Her Party

AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite

Democratic absences may be causing a serious problem for the Biden administration, especially when their Senate majority is so narrow to begin with. Earlier this month it was announced that Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) was taking an absence due to a shingles diagnosis, though a statement expressed she still hoped to return "later this month" and expected to make a "full recovery." Based on when the Senate is session, however, that timeline may have changed. 

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Tweeting about an exchange with Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL), CNN's Manu Raju mentioned it is "Unclear the timing of her return when Senate is back in session." Durbin, who is also the senate majority whip, replaced Feinstein as the top Democrat on the Senate Judiciary Committee. "We have more in the wings, which we would like to process through the committees," Durbin told reporters.

While President Joe Biden seeks to race ahead when it comes to getting judges nominated and confirmed, the absence of Feinstein, who at 89 is one of the oldest senators in the chamber, has forced a pause. 

That such judicial nominees are expected to be approved along party lines, and that Feinstein's vote is needed highlights that while Democrats expanded their Senate majority in the 2022 elections, their majority is nevertheless still a narrow one. 

Such an expectation also further highlights how partisan Biden's nominees have been, with the president being forthcoming on how it's all about equity for his administration. They continue to be partisan, as well as unqualified. Just last week, as Julio highlighted, Judge Kato Crews, who has been nominated for a district court seat in Colorado, was stumped by Sen. John Kennedy (R-LA) when it comes to his lack of knowledge about the Brady v. Maryland case

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Not long after Feinstein's absence was announced, NBC News highlighted how "Democrats hit some snags on Biden judicial nominees after topping 100 new judges." Sen. John Fetterman (D-PA) is also absent on account of being treated for depression. As Matt covered earlier on Monday, Fetterman's absence had been extended on account of two weeks being added to his hospital stay so he could adjust to his medications. 

Sen. Kennedy's exchange with Judge Crews was not the only example, far from it, with the piece also mentioning how Judge Charnelle Bjelkengren, who is nominated to be a district court judge in Washington state, had trouble answering Kennedy's question about what's in Article II and Article V of the Constitution. That lack of basic legal knowledge raised concerns not only among Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME), who has voted for some Biden nominees, but among Democrats as well, including Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia. 

After speculation as to if she would even be able to complete her term--which her office confirmed last December she would--Feinstein's office announced that she would indeed be retiring ahead of the 2024 election. Several candidates have jumped at the chance to replace her, even before that February retirement announcement came. This includes Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA), who has earned former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's (D-CA) endorsement, since Feinstein is indeed not running again. 

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