I’ve always had a strange fascination with the Senate. I can’t exactly explain why it’s just been with me since the 1960s. With only 100 members and six-year terms it has long been the much more collegial of the two federal legislative chambers. Many actions actually get approved by unanimous consent. That collegiality is on the rapid decline. If I got into why I’d be writing a book, not a short opinion piece. One current situation outlines that and so much more. Today I’d like to talk about California’s senior Senator Democrat Dianne Feinstein.
Feinstein holds a seat on the Senate Judiciary Committee and is currently suffering from shingles which is prohibiting her from physically coming to work. Much legislation is hung up due to the filibuster but judicial confirmations had been going along at record pace. The normal way to get a nominee confirmed is first to get the nomination out of committee – the Senate Judiciary Committee. With Feinstein out that has come to pretty much a halt.
Feinstein is in her last term and is openly being challenged by fellow Democrats (and by a few more behind the scenes). She has asked to be temporarily replaced on the committee while she recovers. In senates of old that courtesy would have been graciously granted. (On both sides of the aisle, Senators tend to be old and they have a history of getting sick.) The logic behind extending that courtesy to the other side is that what goes around; comes around. This time the Republicans are balking.
In my mind philosophically this is a case of just because you have the right to do something doesn’t make it the right thing to do. Politically this is short sighted and just escalates the kinds of activities that are short term political victories but are immediate losses for the people and long-term losses for the offending political party. The Republicans will again control the Senate someday and most likely by a narrow margin. (I can’t see either party controlling the Senate by a wide margin in the foreseeable future.)
On the Democratic side Feinstein has presented a unique situation for several months now. I have to think that her retirement announcement was motivated in part, (how large we may learn in the future), by Katie Porter’s announcement that she would run for Feinstein’s seat and Elizabeth Warren’s almost instant (it had to be agreed upon beforehand) endorsement of her. Think about this; a high profile senior Democratic senator endorses a (at that point) challenger to another high profile sitting Democratic senior senator. That stuff isn’t an everyday occurrence! Since then several other Democrats have announced their candidacy and I am certain many others are watching and perhaps waiting.
This situation may motivate Feinstein into simply resigning as opposed to filling out her current term. The losers in that scenario are the Republicans. If Feinstein resigns, she will be temporarily replaced by someone California’s Democratic Governor Gavin Newsom picks. There are many possibilities but one thing is for sure: Newsom’s choice will be a Democrat.
Newsom’s initial choice is rather a binary one. He can choose a placeholder who will not run for the seat in 2024 or he can basically be a kingmaker. I doubt he will choose a placeholder but even if he did the Republicans initially lose because Feinstein is replaced by someone who will be in attendance. If, as is much more likely, Newsom picks someone who will run for the seat in 2024 that person (I’m, rather safely, assuming they win the general in 2024) will have seniority over any possible Republican 2024 pickup(s) (and there are several vulnerable Democratic seats up in 2024). The current political reality is such that it is close to unthinkable that a Republican will win Feinstein’s seat in 2024.
I certainly don’t know what Feinstein will do but it is not a stretch to assume she is more likely to resign if the Democrats are not allowed to temporarily replace her on the committee. By the way if she steps down the Democrats can simply assign someone else to that committee assignment without any “courtesy pass” from the Republicans.
California’s Democratic bench is loaded and I have to think that if Newsom is filling an opening several people who are not at this point actively pursuing the seat will behind the scenes throw their hats in the ring for. Oh, to be a fly on Newsom’s phone line!
Here is one more angle before I leave you: Newsom could name himself to the spot. I don’t think he will because I think he harbors some ambitions to someday run for the presidency and the governorship of California is a better launching pad. Also, as governor he can steer clear of many controversial issues that he would have to vote on in the Senate.
The repercussions are pretty clear; the possibilities, not so much.
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