Calls for Dianne Feinstein to resign from the US Senate because of ill health are not sexist or ageist, a prominent liberal columnist argued, as debate over the California Democrat’s absence continued.
“I don’t think it’s those things,” Molly Jong-Fast, a podcaster and Vanity Fair columnist, told MSNBC. “Sure, there have been senators who have stayed too long on the right and the left, female and male. This is not even an issue of staying too long. This is an issue of just not being in the office to take the votes you must take.”
Feinstein, 89, is due to retire next year but has been absent for weeks with shingles. She has said she intends to return but questions about her fitness, previously focused on her mental acuity, have returned.
Republicans blocked a temporary judiciary committee replacement. Citing the need to continue the pace of judicial confirmations, some Democrats and more than 60 California liberal groups have called for Feinstein to quit.
Prominent figures including the New York senator Kirsten Gillibrand and the former House speaker Nancy Pelosi have said such calls are sexist.
Jong-Fast said: “I understand why Nancy Pelosi is defending [Feinstein], I understand why other people are who are running for re-election are defending her and you don’t want to alienate voters.
“But … I think it reflects badly on Democrats, that they’re allowing someone to do this to the judiciary … It’ll stop the judicial nomination process eventually. They won’t have the votes to get these judges.”
Elsewhere, the Republican senator Lindsey Graham said he would support Feinstein’s replacement on the judiciary committee if she were to resign.
“I hope she comes back,” Graham, from South Carolina, told CNN. “But if she does resign, I would be in the camp of following the precedent of the Senate replacing the person” on the judiciary panel.
Feinstein, Graham said, “is a wonderful person. She’s been a very effective senator. I hope she comes back. We had [the former Illinois senator] Mark Kirk out for four months [when he suffered a stroke in 2012]. No Republican asked that his seat be temporarily filled.
“This is about four or five judges they can’t get out of the committee. I voted for seven … judges a couple of days ago. I’m very capable of supporting Democratic nominees, but they’re four or five that are just out of the mainstream, and they want to replace Dianne Feinstein’s seat for the judges.”
Democrats would counter that confirming liberal federal judges is a key and legitimate aim, after Donald Trump and Senate Republicans stocked courts with nominees well to the right of the mainstream – Matthew Kacsmaryk, the Texas judge whose ruling banning an abortion pill was blocked by the supreme court on Friday, being just one.
Feinstein was the first female mayor of San Francisco before she became the longest-serving female senator in history, having won her seat in 1992.
That, Jong-Fast said, made Feinstein “fundamentally … a public servant, there to serve the public. And this idea that somehow because she’s a woman or because she’s older that she should be immune from [calls to quit] is really ridiculous.
“It’s not that she is too old for this job. It’s that she’s not in this job and has no plans to return, and America is in the middle of a judicial emergency.”
Regarding the depth of that emergency, Carl Tobias, a law professor at the University of Richmond, Virginia, said Feinstein’s absence had “not stopped the Senate from confirming Biden’s judicial nominees, but it has made confirming them somewhat more difficult.
“… For nominees who lack [bipartisan] support and receive tie votes, Democrats can discharge them from the committee with majority votes on the floor, which consumes valuable floor time. Democrats should now expeditiously confirm the five appellate and 20 district nominees, all of whom are well qualified and await confirmation votes on the Senate floor.”
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