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Democrats advance seven Biden judicial nominees with GOP support in Feinstein’s absence

The Judiciary Committee vote Thursday marks a course change for Democrats, who were forced to shelve other prospective judges that lack bipartisan support.
Sen. Dianne Feinstein at the Capitol
Sen. Dianne Feinstein's absence has made it harder for Democrats to confirm some judges.Kent Nishimura / Los Angeles Times via Getty Images file

WASHINGTON — Senate Democrats advanced seven of President Joe Biden's judicial nominees through committee on Thursday with Republican votes, shelving others that lack bipartisan backing with Sen. Dianne Feinstein absent.

The move by Senate Judiciary Chair Dick Durbin, D-Ill., marks a change in course after he had repeatedly delayed meetings since early March to advance a package of judges, lacking the decisive vote of Feinstein, D-Calif., who is out indefinitely on medical leave.

“We wish our colleague, Sen. Feinstein, a speedy recovery and return,” Durbin said. “We hope she’ll be back in the Senate very soon. Today’s agenda includes a number of judicial nominees who have been sitting on the agenda for some time. Some have bipartisan support. There’s nothing to prevent us from calling and voting on these nominees today.”

The panel voted to advance Mónica Ramírez Almadani and Wesley Hsu to be district court judges in California; Jeffrey Irvine Cummings and LaShonda Hunt to be district court judges in Illinois; Michael Farbiarz and Robert Kirsch to be district court judges in New Jersey; and Orelia Eleta Merchant to be a district court judge in New York.

Democrats unanimously voted for all of them. They received varying degrees of Republican support, most notably from Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, the ranking member.

“I hope Senator Feinstein returns quickly. I hope she recovers,” Graham said, adding that the committee can still operate without her. "Sometimes we just can’t agree, and that’s just part of life.”

Durbin’s strategy had been to advance batches of judicial nominees together, whether they have bipartisan support or not. In this case, he shelved five nominees who lack GOP support, including Michael Delaney to the 1st Circuit Court of Appeals and Charnelle Bjelkengren to be a district court judge in Washington.

The panel is split between 11 Democrats and 10 Republicans. A tie vote in committee means a nominee fails. Without Feinstein, Democrats can't send judicial nominees to the full Senate for a vote unless they have some GOP help, and some of Biden's picks have no bipartisan support.

Earlier this week, Republicans blocked Democrats from temporarily replacing Feinstein, 89, on the Judiciary Committee. Some Democrats have called on her to resign, but she has said she will return when doctors allow.