Dems plan to push Feinstein-replacement strategy this week

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer wants to move this week to temporarily replace the ailing Dianne Feinstein on the Judiciary Committee — a move that at least one Republican is likely to hold up.

Schumer said Monday afternoon that he wants to quickly sub in another senator for Feinstein (D-Calif.), whose absence from the Judiciary panel is hampering Democrats’ ability to easily confirm more of President Joe Biden’s nominees to the federal bench. The New York Democrat said he is angling to have a conversation with Minority Leader Mitch McConnell about the matter soon.

Feinstein is “hopeful on returning soon,” Schumer said, adding: “We think the Republicans should allow a temporary replacement till she returns. I hope the Republicans will join us in making sure this happens since it is the only right and fair thing to do.”

Reshuffling the panel’s roster this week would require unanimous consent from all senators, which means just one Republican could block it. Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) has already signaled he will not consent to doing anything to ease confirmation of Biden’s judicial picks. If Republicans delay or block the resolution to replace Feinstein, they would effectively make it tougher for Democrats to confirm more judges — which Biden’s party can normally do unilaterally with a 51-49 majority.

The judiciary panel’s chair, Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), has repeatedly delayed committee votes on lifetime appointees during Feinstein’s treatment for shingles. Democrats still have some judicial nominees ready for floor votes, but that list will run dry relatively soon without action at the Judiciary Committee.

With Feinstein absent — and her timetable to ever return to Washington increasingly uncertain — the committee is evenly split between Democrats and Republicans. That means judicial nominees without bipartisan support cannot come to the Senate floor without laborious procedural votes to shake them loose.

If Feinstein is temporarily replaced, Durbin could more easily win confirmation for those nominees. And the stakes are extra-high now: Confirming judges is one of the top Senate Democratic priorities given GOP control of the House.

Given that Republicans can filibuster any changes to committee lineups, it would take several days as well as the votes of at least 10 GOP senators to replace Feinstein on the panel. Schumer declined to say on Monday whether he would force that floor debate if Cotton or any other Republican blocks a quick switcheroo.

And who Democrats pick as a potential Feinstein replacement may weigh heavily on that endgame. Schumer said he needs to talk to the caucus about who would take her spot on the Judiciary panel, which she was once in line to chair.

Feinstein rejected any talk of resigning in a statement last week, asking that she be removed from the committee until she returns to the Senate in order to allow Judiciary’s work to continue.

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