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Sen. Feinstein to step down as top Democrat on Judiciary Committee

Sen. Dianne Feinstein (Calif.) announced on Monday that she will not seek the top Democratic spot on the Senate Judiciary Committee. (Pool/Reuters/)

Sen. Dianne Feinstein announced Monday that she will not seek the top Democratic spot on the Senate Judiciary Committee, weeks after criticism from liberal groups for her handling of Supreme Court Justice Amy Coney Barrett’s confirmation hearings.

“After serving as the lead Democrat on the Judiciary Committee for four years, I will not seek the chairmanship or ranking member position in the next Congress,” Feinstein (Calif.) said in a statement.

Feinstein, who at 87 is the oldest sitting senator, said she intends to remain a member of the Judiciary panel as well as the Senate Intelligence, Appropriations and Rules committees. She cited the need to devote more attention to the fight against climate change as among the factors leading to her decision.

The move comes as liberal groups have called for Feinstein’s ouster as the top Democrat on the committee, arguing she has been too passive in battling the Trump administration, particularly on judicial nominees.

Liberal activists were irate about Feinstein’s praise of Republicans, including Judiciary Committee Chairman Lindsey O. Graham (S.C.), for how they conducted the October confirmation hearings for Barrett.

Abortion rights group calls for ouster of Sen. Feinstein from top Democratic post on Judiciary Committee

Last month, Ilyse Hogue, president of NARAL Pro-Choice America, said in a statement that Americans “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.

After the criticism and the calls for her to step down, Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) said he had a “serious talk” with Feinstein, sidestepping questions about the Judiciary committee post.

In a statement Monday, Schumer thanked Feinstein for her leadership and contributions to the Democratic caucus and the country.

“Senator Feinstein’s experience, decades-long relationship with President-elect [Joe] Biden, and leadership on so many issues will continue to be an asset for our caucus, California, and the country as we begin a new term with the new president,” Schumer said.

Feinstein said she looks forward to working with the incoming Biden administration on issues including gun safety, criminal justice reform and immigration and will “continue to do my utmost to bring about positive change in the coming years.”

Sen. Richard J. Durbin (D-Ill.) is next in line for the top judiciary spot after Feinstein. Durbin is also the Senate Democratic whip, which is the No. 2 position in the caucus and comes with its own security detail.

In a statement Monday night, Durbin thanked Feinstein for her “distinguished leadership on the Judiciary Committee during turbulent years” and announced that he intends to seek the top Democratic spot on the panel.

“I have served on the Committee for 22 years, and I am its most senior member who does not currently serve atop another Senate Committee,” Durbin said. “We have to roll up our sleeves and get to work on undoing the damage of the last four years and protecting fundamental civil and human rights.”