Dianne Feinstein’s Growing Problems

Tony Quinn
Political Analyst

It is hard to find a Democrat who did poorly this year in California, but the state’s senior Senator, Dianne Feinstein, was one. Not only did she have a mediocre re-election, winning by just 54 percent against a weak fellow Democrat, but she is receiving some blame for the poor Democratic showing in November in the US Senate.

While national Democrats scored historic gains in the US House, picking up 40 seats, and among governors of the big states, they lost four incumbent Democratic Senators for an overall loss of two seats in the Senate, a better showing for Republicans than was expected.

Feinstein’s problem begins with the confirmation hearing for Justice Brett Kavanaugh where Feinstein sat on explosive allegation of sexual misconduct until the hearing was nearly over. Republicans felt Kavanaugh had been blindsided, and this spurred higher GOP turnout, especially in US Senate races in states President Trump had carried in 2016.

Several of the Democratic Senators who lost seemed like winners before the Kavanaugh hearing. Sens. Bill Nelson, (D-Florida), Joe Donnelly (D-Indiana) and Claire McCaskill, (D-Missouri) looked like they would survive last summer, but all lost due largely to higher GOP turnout in their states. This gives the Republicans 53 seats in the incoming Senate, up two seats from their 2018 total.

This is particularly bad news for Feinstein because she is the ranking Democrat on the Senate Judiciary Committee and the major Senate action in 2019 and 2020 will be confirmation of Trump-appointed judges.

In 2017 and 2018, the chairman of this committee was Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) who had at least a polite working relationship with Feinstein. He will now be replaced by the much more partisan and much tougher Sen. Lindsay Graham (R-South Carolina) who has shown nothing but contempt for Democrats on Senate Judiciary and is sure to completely ignore Feinstein as the ranking Democrat as he pushes through one Trump judge after another.

A special problem will arise when the Senate reorganizes in January. Two current GOP members of the committee are retiring, and there is a move afoot to reduce the membership of Senate Judiciary. If that happens, the sure loser will be California’s other Senator, Kamala Harris, who is the most junior Democrat on the committee. Being dumped from the committee would cost Harris valuable national exposure from which to gain publicity should she decide to run for president in 2020.

Unfortunately for Harris, the only way for her to survive would be for another Democrat to give up the Judiciary Committee and fingers are pointing at Feinstein as the one who should go.

In November, the Washington Post reported on Democratic unhappiness with Feinstein. “The (Harris) predicament is punctuating rumbling discontent on and off Capitol Hill with Feinstein — frustration that reached a ‘flash point’ during the Kavanaugh hearings, according to one person familiar with committee members’ thinking.

“Some Democrats privately complain that Feinstein exercised poor political judgment by not publicly releasing a letter from Kavanaugh accuser Christine Blasey Ford. They also spoke of unsatisfactory discipline and organization under Feinstein’s leadership and fears that could handicap the party when they face off with Sen. Graham, who is expected to be the panel’s next chairman.”

It is never helpful when people talk about a politician “moving on”, but that is what is happening. “Some members … wish Feinstein would step aside and allow the party’s No. 2 Democrat, Sen. Richard J. Durbin (D-Ill.), … to take over. There are some who believe he would be a more reliable and energetic challenger against the often irascible Graham, especially when it comes to the GOP’s efforts to confirm conservative judges, according to people familiar with members’ thinking.”

If Feinstein stepped off Senate Judiciary, there would be room for Harris to stay on. But then what would Feinstein do? There are not many “ranking member” slots that are attractive in a Senate with only 47 Democrats.

The Democrats have a chance to re-gain the Senate in 2020, but if that fails, and especially if Trump is re-elected, look for Feinstein, who would then be 87 years old, to perhaps retire and let Gov. Newsom appoint a “younger” Senator to serve out her term. And who would that be, why not the Hamlet of Colusa County, soon to be former Gov. Jerry Brown who is itching for a platform for his climate change crusade.

This is California politics; it is not so far fetched.

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