If that wasn’t enough to anger Democrats — who have spent this week trying to paint Barrett’s nomination process as a sham — Feinstein also thanked the committee’s chair, Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.), and then walked across the room to wrap him in a hug.
Never mind that neither senator was wearing a face mask. Many Democrats were so much more incensed about what that hug symbolized — a final white flag, a compliment for Graham after a comparatively tame week of questioning — that, hours later, at least two liberal activist groups called for Feinstein to go.
“It’s time for Sen. Feinstein to step down from her leadership position on the Senate Judiciary Committee,” Brian Fallon, the executive director of Demand Justice, said in a statement. “If she won’t, her colleagues need to intervene.”
His organization, which opposes conservative judicial nominees, accused the senator of undermining liberals’ calls for a filibuster and court reform, “straight through to thanking Republicans” for what it called “the most egregious partisan power grab” in the high court’s modern history.
A spokesperson for Feinstein referred The Washington Post to the senator’s explanation of why she planned to vote against Barrett’s confirmation.
“Judiciary Committee Democrats had one goal this week: to show what’s at stake under a 6-3 conservative Supreme Court – and we did that,” Feinstein said in a statement Thursday. “We showed that Judge Barrett has a long history of opposing the Affordable Care Act and Roe v. Wade and represents the vote to overturn both.”
But with Republicans rushing to confirm Barrett before the election — a move that could push the court to the right for decades, potentially affecting hot-button issues like abortion and health care — some fear that Feinstein did not fight hard enough for the seat formerly held by Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, the late liberal icon.
That she praised Graham’s oversight of the process, and then got up and hugged him, was simply the final provocation for many liberals.
“That she can say this about this ongoing travesty,” said Jon Lovett, a former aide to President Barack Obama and co-host of “Pod Save America,” “is another sad statement about how poorly represented we are by Dianne Feinstein.”
Feinstein, a former San Francisco mayor who was first elected to the Senate in 1992, made a name for herself on Capitol Hill by going after the CIA and fighting for stricter gun control.
But in recent years, the 87-year-old senator has often gotten more attention for her gaffes. Last year, she was panned on “Saturday Night Live” for a now-infamous interaction in which she dismissed a group of schoolchildren asking her to advocate for the Green New Deal.
In 2018, during the Senate confirmation hearings for Brett M. Kavanaugh, she drew intense scrutiny for waiting weeks to publicize sexual assault accusations against him from Christine Blasey Ford. The California Democratic Party denied her its endorsement that year, though she easily beat back a more liberal challenger.
Even before the Senate took up another nomination this month, Democrats expressed concerns that Feinstein — the oldest lawmaker in her chamber and the second-oldest in Congress — had grown too disengaged to fight the GOP tooth-and-nail over the future of Ginsburg’s seat.
Republicans, too, denounced Feinstein, seizing on comments she made about Barrett’s religious “dogma” during the judge’s confirmation proceedings for the 7th District U.S. Court of Appeals.
In some ways, the senator still proved herself up to the task, producing some of the most telling moments of Barrett’s hearing. As the AP noted, Feinstein pressed Barrett on whether she thinks Medicare is constitutional and if she agrees with the belief of her mentor, the late Justice Antonin Scalia, that the Voting Rights Act “perpetuated racial entitlement.” (Barrett did not directly answer either question.)
But many observers on the left gave her failing marks. She did not, for example, put up much of a battle against Graham when the committee was not at quorum, they pointed out.
“I don’t care that Feinstein and Graham are friends,” wrote Susan Hennessey, executive editor of the Lawfare blog. “I care that Feinstein catastrophically mismanaged the hearings, was outwitted without realizing it, and did a grave disservice to the public.”
Others slammed Feinstein for offering positive praise to Graham as he is locked in a tight race against Jaime Harrison, a former South Carolina Democratic Party chair who has shattered fundraising records in recent months.
Many began floating ideas for ways to force her out of the Senate Judiciary Committee, especially if the Democrats take the White House: Vote her out. Replace her with Rep. Katie Porter (D-Calif.). Appoint her to a Cabinet position. Send her to Paris!
Or, as the comedian Billy Eichner said: “Time to retire.”