“I think this is kind of a jump ball,” Feinstein, a Liu backer, told reporters Wednesday afternoon. “I don’t think we know.”
Feinstein made the remarks after she and fellow Democratic Sens. Daniel Akaka (Hawaii), Daniel Inouye (Hawaii) and Barbara Boxer (Calif.), as well as Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), met privately with Liu in a chamber off the Senate floor.
The battle over the Liu nomination has been raging since the previous Congress. Obama nominated Liu last year, but the nomination stalled during the 111th Congress amid opposition from conservatives who objected to what they said were Liu’s controversial writings and speeches, his activist judicial view and his limited experience.
Of particular concern to conservatives are Liu’s previous statements expressing a liberal view of the role of government and his prior criticism of Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito and Chief Justice John Roberts.
Now, the Liu nomination has reached the Senate floor once again following Obama’s re-nomination of the Berkeley professor at the beginning of the current Congress and the Senate Judiciary Committee’s approval of the nomination last month.
The Senate is expected to hold a vote on ending debate on the nomination Thursday afternoon.
On Wednesday, members took to the floor to speak out in opposition to or in favor of Liu’s confirmation.
Iowa Republican Sen. Charles Grassley called Liu “the most controversial of President Obama’s nominees that we’ve had to this point.”
“I have pledged and indeed have demonstrated cooperation in moving forward on consensus nominations,” Grassley said. “There is no doubt that Mr. Liu does not fall into that category of being a ‘consensus’ nominee.”
Sen. Jim Webb (D-Va.), among the first to speak Wednesday on Liu’s nomination, announced in a floor speech that he would not vote in favor of Liu’s confirmation, although he would not vote in opposition to ending debate.
“He is clearly talented. Whatever he ends up doing he is certain to have a long future in our country,” Webb said of Liu. But he added that “intellect in and of itself does not always give a person wisdom,” and went on to criticize some of Liu’s statements on racial diversity.
“Economic disadvantage is not limited to race,” Webb said. “We do ourselves an enormous injustice when we turn a blind eye to the variance among whites ... For all this emphasis on diversity programs, I do not see anywhere that Mr. Liu understands this vital point.”
Other Democrats on Wednesday praised Liu.
“The Court of Appeals is where law is made, and we need the finest minds in the world to do that,” Reid told reporters after his meeting with Liu, noting that prominent conservatives such as former Rep. Bob Barr (R-Ga.) and former Whitewater special prosecutor Kenneth Starr have also defended Liu. Later, Boxer spoke at length on the Senate floor, describing Liu’s achievements as the fulfillment of the American dream.
“Every single thing the man has done has turned to gold,” Boxer said. “Why would we lose this opportunity for the American people to have him serve them?”
Feinstein said Wednesday that the White House has been making calls urging senators to back Liu.
“The only thing I know is I believe the vice president has been making some calls,” Feinstein said. “I can’t answer for the president, just because I don’t know.”