Liberal activists were irate about Feinstein’s praise of Republicans — particularly the committee chairman, Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.) — for how they had conducted Barrett’s confirmation hearings, which concluded Thursday. Barrett is expected to be confirmed later this month.
“Amy Barrett and this power grab pose a grave threat to every freedom and right we hold dear and tears the very fabric of our democracy,” said NARAL’s president, Ilyse Hogue. “Americans — whose lives hang in the balance — deserve leadership that underscores how unprecedented, shameful and wrong this process is.”
Feinstein, Hogue said, “failed to make this clear and in fact offered an appearance of credibility to the proceedings that is wildly out of step with the American people. As such, we believe the committee needs new leadership.”
The statement was all the more remarkable because Feinstein has been a longtime advocate of abortion rights. That has been recognized by NARAL — every year since 2016, Feinstein had received a 100 percent on the abortion rights group’s congressional scorecard, meaning that she sided with NARAL on its legislative priorities when it comes to reproductive rights.
Feinstein, 87 and the oldest member of the Senate, would be in line to become chairwoman if Democrats win majority control in the election.
Aides to Feinstein did not immediately return a request for comment Friday, but upon similar criticism Thursday from the left, aides pointed to a statement from the senator saying Democrats achieved their primary goal — to showcase the threat that they say Barrett poses to the future of the Affordable Care Act and access to abortion.
“The Senate is structured so the majority had absolute control over this process,” Feinstein said. “When Republicans signaled they’d move ahead in the face of all objections, the only thing we could do was show this nominee would radically alter the court, and we accomplished that.”
Yet the anti-Feinstein noise from the left is getting increasingly difficult for Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) to ignore, and it is unclear precisely how he plans to navigate the issue, considering committee leadership operates primarily on seniority.
Sen. Patrick J. Leahy (D-Vt.), who served as the Judiciary Committee chairman for years, has seniority over Feinstein and could conceivably reclaim his position. But he has shown no signs of wanting to leave his perch atop the powerful Senate Appropriations Committee.
Sen. Richard J. Durbin (D-Ill.) is next in line after Feinstein, but it is unclear whether he can hold a committee chairmanship while simultaneously being the Senate Democratic whip, which is the No. 2 position in the caucus and comes with its own security detail. After Durbin is Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.), an aggressive senator and favorite of liberals who has been a vocal critic of the conservative judicial apparatus, including the Federalist Society, that has served as a pipeline for Trump’s picks to the bench.
At the conclusion of the hearing, Feinstein thanked Graham for how he led the proceedings, and the two senators hugged — both maskless despite concerns about the coronavirus pandemic.
“This has been one of the best Senate hearings I have participated in,” Feinstein told Graham in an exchange gleefully promoted by Senate Republicans. “Thank you for your fairness and opportunity of going back and forth. It leaves one with a lot of hopes.”
Within hours, Demand Justice — a liberal advocacy group focused on the judiciary that is led by a former top Schumer aide — called on Feinstein to step aside as the top Democrat on the committee.
“She has undercut Democrats’ position at every step of this process, from undermining calls for filibuster and court reform straight through to thanking Republicans for the most egregious partisan power grab in the modern history of the Supreme Court,” said Brian Fallon, the group’s executive director.