Dianne Feinstein Steps Back from Committee Amid Calls for her to Retire

April 13, 2023

Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) said Wednesday night she requested to be “temporarily” replaced on the Judiciary Committee while she recovers from a bout of shingles.

“I understand that my absence could delay the important work of the Judiciary Committee, so I’ve asked Leader Schumer to ask the Senate to allow another Democratic senator to temporarily serve until I’m able to resume my committee work,” Feinstein said in a statement.

At age 89, Feinstein is currently the oldest sitting member of the U.S. Senate. She said she had planned to return to Washington “by the end of the March work period,” but her return was “delayed due to continued complications” from her shingles diagnosis. 

She added that she plans to return “as soon as possible once my medical team advises that it’s safe for me to travel.”

A spokesperson for Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) said Wednesday night that “per Sen. Feinstein’s wishes,” he would “ask the Senate next week to allow another Democratic Senator to temporarily serve on the Judiciary Committee.”

In order to replace Feinstein on the committee, a resolution would need to be agreed upon to name another member to the panel.

Feinstein’s extended absence, meanwhile, has sparked growing calls from her fellow Democratic lawmakers for her to retire sooner rather than when her latest term ends in 2024.

Senate Judiciary Chair Dick Durbin (D-IL) recently acknowledged that Feinstein’s absence had slowed down Democrats’ efforts to confirm President Biden’s judicial nominees.

“I can’t consider nominees in these circumstances because a tie vote is a losing vote in committee,” Durbin said last week.

Should Feinstein choose to retire before the end of her current term, Rep. Barbara Lee (D) is a likely replacement. California Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) vetted Lee when he chose then-state Secretary of State Alex Padilla to replace then-Sen. Kamala Harris as she departed for the Vice Presidency, and he has publicly committed to choosing a Black woman should he get the chance to make another appointment. 

Such an appointment could complicate the 2024 Senate race in California, where already Lee and Reps. Katie Porter and Adam Schiff have tossed in their hats for the Democratic nomination. Rep. Eric Swalwell is another possible contender. 

Rep. Ro Khanna, who was considered a potential Democratic contender for Feinstein’s seat, has endorsed Lee for the position and taken on the role of co-chair of her Senate campaign.

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