The Democrats Have a Dianne Feinstein Problem

As the first tantalizing tastes of autumn reach swampy Washington, Democrats in Congress are likely finding it hard to enjoy the cooler weather and pumpkin spice lattes: Their next few months are going to be brutal, just absolutely no fun at all. The death of Ruth Bader Ginsburg last week, a cruel cosmic joke that confirmed we live in the Owned Timeline, has set up a Senate confirmation battle in the coming weeks, at the same time as America decides whether to give Donald Trump another term. Further proof that God is real, and he’s a Republican.

The question of what Democrats can actually do to prevent Republicans from installing another right-wing justice on the highest court remains unanswered, but it seems unlikely that they will take former Harry Reid staffer Adam Jentleson’s advice, published in The New York Times, and boycott the confirmation hearings. After all, if Brett Kavanaugh crying about beer didn’t change anything, nothing that they can throw at Amy Coney Barrett, the likeliest nominee on Trump’s shortlist, will either.

Which leads us to another problem: The Democratic charge will be led by 87-year-old Dianne Feinstein, the party’s ranking member of the Judiciary Committee. Feinstein is resolutely not interested in the idea of breaking any kind of norm to win. As recently as a week before Ginsburg’s death, Feinstein criticized the idea of abolishing the filibuster and refused to say whether, as chair of the committee during a Biden administration, she would continue a recent Republican practice of ignoring opposition committee members who object to judicial nominees from their home state. The longstanding “blue slip” process, she said, “fosters bipartisan engagement in the nomination process.” Truly, we are living in a golden age of well-fostered bipartisan engagement!

Concerns about Feinstein’s role in the upcoming confirmation process are not some petty, factional whining of disgruntled leftists. As Politico reported, these fears—that Feinstein is not up to the task of grilling Trump’s nominee for Ginsberg’s seat—are “widespread” among Democrats in Congress, who fret that Feinstein “gets confused by reporters’ questions, or will offer different answers to the same question depending on where or when she’s asked” and appears “frail.” These are normal things for an 87-year-old to do or be; they are perhaps not the ideal characteristics for the person tasked with being the face of the Democratic resistance to another right-wing psychocrat being placed on the court for decades to possess. (The Los Angeles Times’ report on Feinstein’s love of the blue slip process included the detail that she “wasn’t aware” that “Republicans had confirmed judges without them.” Her office later provided a tally: The GOP has done so 17 times in the Trump era.)

More importantly, Politico notes that Feinstein whiffed badly the last go around. She waited weeks to disclose the letter she received from Christine Blasey Ford alleging that Brett Kavanaugh had sexually assaulted her, and only did so after The Intercept reported on the existence of an allegation. One unnamed senator was candid—as candid as an anonymous source can be, I suppose—in their criticism: She’s “not sure what she’s doing,” and the party “may be short two senators” because of her handling of Kavanaugh.

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