WASHINGTON — Senate Republicans blocked a request Tuesday by Democrats to temporarily replace Sen. Dianne Feinstein on the Judiciary Committee while the 89-year-old Californian recovers from illness.
Majority Leader Chuck Schumer asked for unanimous consent to swap out Feinstein for Sen. Ben Cardin, D-Md., saying that Feinstein "made her wish clear" to be removed "until she returns to the Senate."
That was met with opposition from Sen. Lindsey Graham, the top Republican on the Judiciary Committee, effectively dooming the request. "This is about a handful of judges that you can't get the votes for," Graham, R-S.C. said, adding that he doesn't believe those judges that lack GOP support should be confirmed.
The move came at the request of Feinstein, who has been away from the Senate for months after revealing she was hospitalized with shingles. Feinstein issued the call last week in response to demands from some Democrats that she resign so that her absence doesn't stall President Joe Biden's judicial nominees from moving forward.
The blockade leaves Democrats with few options. They can still seek a full Senate vote to replace Feinstein, but that is subject to a filibuster and requires 60 votes. Republicans have made clear they'll block that as well, rejecting a temporary committee swap for the purpose of speeding up party-line judges.
Feinstein has not offered a timetable to return to the Senate.
Schumer said Tuesday he spoke to her on Friday and is “very hopeful that she will return very soon,” without getting specific.
Rep. Ro Khanna, D-Calif., the first lawmaker who called on Feinstein to resign, citing the stalling of prospective judges as a result of her absence, doubled down on his push Tuesday.
"Senator Feinstein’s staff rushed out her statement two hours after my tweet to stop the bleeding and halt the growing chorus for her to resign. It worked for a few days but didn’t solve the problem as many of us had warned," Khanna told NBC News. "The ball is now back in Senator Feinstein’s court to provide a specific timeline of when she can cast votes on Judiciary to confirm President Biden’s judges."
"Every day she is not on Judiciary is hurting our ability to confirm another judge who will protect women’s rights and voting rights. I hope more will choose democracy over decorum and speak out about what is painfully obvious," he said. "It’s time for Sen. Feinstein to step aside to have a dignified conclusion to her public service career."
But other California Democrats are defending Feinstein's decision to remain in office.
Rep. Pete Aguilar, D-Calif., said Tuesday that it’s “up to Sen. Feinstein to decide her own timeline.”
Rep. Ted Lieu, D-Calif., added: “In America, we don’t tell people to resign because they got shingles.”