Abortion rights group wants Feinstein off top Democratic post on Judiciary Committee

Supreme Court nominee Amy Coney Barrett, left, and Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif.


By SEUNG MIN KIM | The Washington Post | Published: October 17, 2020

WASHINGTON — A top abortion rights group heavily involved in the efforts to defeat Amy Coney Barrett's confirmation to the Supreme Court is calling for the ouster of Sen. Dianne Feinstein as the Judiciary Committee's top Democrat.

The statement from the head of NARAL Pro-Choice America further fuels a liberal backlash against Feinstein of California, who has been a target of criticism during the Trump presidency for being far too passive in battling the administration and particularly its judicial nominees.

Liberal activists were particularly irate at Feinstein's praise of Republicans, particularly Committee Chairman Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., for how they had conducted the confirmation hearings for Barrett, which concluded Thursday. She 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 is all the more remarkable because Feinstein has been a longtime advocate of abortion rights. That has been recognized by NARAL itself; every year since 2016, Feinstein had received 100% 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 elections.

Aides to Feinstein did not immediately return a request for comment on Friday but, upon similar criticism Thursday from the left, pointed to the senator's statement saying Democrats achieved their primary goal: to showcase the threat that they say Barrett poses on 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 Schumer, D-N.Y., to ignore, and it's unclear precisely how he plans to navigate this issue considering committee leadership operates primarily on seniority.

Sen. Patrick 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 Appropriations Committee.

Sen. Richard Durbin, D-Ill., is next in line after Feinstein, but it's unclear whether he can hold a committee chairmanship while simultaneously being the Senate Democratic whip, the No. 2 position in the caucus that comes with his 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 President Donald Trump's picks to the bench.

At the conclusion of the hearing, Feinstein thanked Graham for how he led the proceedings, and the two maskless senators hugged - amid a 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 work. 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 and a former top aide to Schumer.