It is hard to find a time when California’s two United States Senators have had less influence in Washington than now.
Despite being the largest state, and having one of the nation’s most senior senators in Dianne Feinstein and a presidential candidate in Kamala Harris, their influence in the nation’s capital seems to be exactly zero.
Sen. Feinstein ranks fifth in Senate seniority, has held public office for 50 years, and serves as the top Democrat on the important Senate Judiciary Committee. Once she was the go-to senator for bipartisan legislation, but not anymore. The Republican chairman of Senate Judiciary, the irascible Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC), holds her in such low regard she is not even consulted on the appointment of federal judges in her own home state.
This has been apparent with most of Trump’s judicial picks but became starkly clear with the nomination of Patrick Bumatay to the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals earlier this month. Bumatay is an assistant US attorney in San Diego and was formerly a top official in the US Department of Justice. Feinstein and Harris helped stop his nomination to the court in 2017 but he is back now.
Interestingly, Bumatay is both a Filipino and gay, not the normal profile for a Trump appointee. There is little in his legal record to criticize and Feinstein’s biggest beef with him seems to be that she was not consulted on his appointment. There was once a time when a president would never have nominated a federal judge without consulting the state’s senior senator, but not anymore.
Feinstein’s problem with Graham and her GOP colleagues probably stems from her handling of sexual misconduct charges against Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh last year. Feinstein’s office was the source of a complaint form Christine Blasey Ford that Kavanaugh assaulted her while they were at a high school party in the 1980s.
Republicans refused to believe the story, and forced Kavanaugh’s nomination through the Senate despite it.
But now it appears that the story was never true. Ford claimed a high school friend named Leland Keyser who was at the party would back up her story. A year later it has come out that Keyser says the assault never happened and she was pressured by Ford’s lawyers to say that it had. So this sexual assault that was so central to the Kavanaugh confirmation seems to have been a lie.
Senate Republicans remain angered by the trauma of that confirmation fight and place much of the blame for it on Feinstein. Since he took over Senate Judiciary in January, Sen. Graham has pushed through 69 Trump judicial nominees without even the slightest nod toward Feinstein, the panel’s ranking Democratic member.
Sen. Harris’s problem is quite different. She was hoping to be the next Barack Obama, like him she sought the presidency midway through her first Senate term. Coming from the nation’s largest state she was thought to have California’s national convention delegates in her back pocket, and upon declaring her candidacy in January she immediately vaulted into the top tier.
She has not stayed that way. Her best moment in the campaign came in the first debate where she took on former Vice President Joe Biden on school busing. But instead of expanding her appeal, the attack on the likeable Biden seemed to backfire and in the second debate a minor candidate tore into her and it has been downhill ever since.
Harris now seems out of the race before it even started. She is running fifth in both Iowa and New Hampshire at five percent, and fourth in South Carolina that is supposed to be her strong state. Even more damaging, the Berkeley-IGS Poll, just released, shows she has fallen in California from 13 percent in June to just eight percent now.
That puts her in fourth place in her home state, miles behind the leader, Sen. Elizabeth Warren with 29 percent.
So it seems only a matter of time until she returns to Washington and her seat as a junior member of Sen. Graham’s Judiciary Committee.
Perhaps Democrats will take control of the US Senate in 2020 and propel Feinstein again to the chairmanship of a major committee. A Democratic president would definitely increase the influence of both Feinstein and Harris; the Trump Administration treats California with somewhat less respect than it affords the Leeward Antilles.
But until change occurs in Washington, Sens. Feinstein and Harris will continue to suffer the Rodney Dangerfield fate, no respect.