WASHINGTON (CN) — Making a much-anticipated return to Congress this week after several months of illness, Senator Dianne Feinstein brought a crucial vote to the Senate Judiciary Committee as the panel takes on a slate of the White House’s court nominees.
Feinstein, who has been recovering from a case of shingles in her home state of California since February, arrived at a business meeting of the judicial panel Thursday to a round of applause. Her return to work comes after her reemergence Wednesday evening on Capitol Hill, smiling and waving at onlookers as aides wheeled her into the halls of Congress.
The senator's return marks what could become a paradigm shift in Democrats’ efforts to advance the Biden administration’s judicial agenda using their razor-thin Senate majority, which has been stymied for months without the necessary votes to ram the White House’s more controversial nominees through the full chamber.
The judiciary committee got started on that effort in earnest Thursday as it approved, with Feinstein’s vote, three court nominations that had until recently been on indefinite pause, including Eastern District of Washington nominee Charnelle Bjelkengren, District of Colorado pick Kato Crews, and Marian Gaston, whom the Biden administration selected to fill a vacancy on the Southern District for California.
Although they offered their well wishes, committee Republicans, such as Texas Senator Ted Cruz, were clear that they saw Feinstein’s return as heralding a new Democratic effort to confirm what he said were the Biden administration’s radical judicial nominees.
“What we’re about to see this committee do is vote on several nominees who are so extreme, who are so unqualified, that they would not have a prayer of getting a single Republican vote on this committee,” Cruz said, contending that even committee ranking member Lindsey Graham — whom Cruz appeared to jab for supporting previous White House court picks — would not support them.
Illinois Democrat Dick Durbin, who chairs the Judiciary Committee, bashed Republicans for suggesting the White House’s nominees were unqualified, contrasting them against various Trump administration appointees who enjoyed Republican support despite unfavorable ratings given by the American Bar Association.
Meanwhile, the panel on Thursday also advanced a trio of judicial nominees with bipartisan appeal, including Northern District of Illinois appointee Brendan Hurson and Darrel Papillion, nominated to join the bench in the Eastern District of Louisiana.
Feinstein, who arrived in committee more than an hour late and had voted by proxy on those less controversial nominations, later requested that she be recorded as physically present for those votes.
Despite the lawmaker’s well-publicized return to Washington, Feinstein, 89, has said that she is not quite ready for a full return to form. In a statement Wednesday, the California Democrat said she is still experiencing some side effects from her battle with the shingles virus.
“My doctors have advised me to work a lighter schedule as I return to the Senate,” Feinstein explained.
In the months the California lawmaker has been away from Washington, Democrats have been increasingly forced to reach across the aisle to advance court nominees. The bipartisan effort has received praise from both parties and has kept committee work from grinding to a halt, but the lack of a decisive majority in the Senate has kept Democrats away, until now, from appointees sure to cause a partisan squabble.
Feinstein’s prominent absence has also prompted calls for the longtime senator to step down by some of her Democratic colleagues, most notably from New York Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and California Congressman Ro Khanna.
Senate Democrats attempted in April to fill the lawmaker’s empty seat on the Judiciary Committee with a temporary replacement. That move was blocked by Republicans, who complained that such an accommodation would allow Democrats to ram through the Biden administration’s more controversial nominees.
Feinstein has said that she will not seek reelection in 2024. Several current members of California’s congressional delegation are vying for that coveted Senate seat, including Barbara Lee, Katie Porter and Adam Schiff.Follow @@BenjaminSWeiss
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