Feinstein to Step Down as Top Democrat on Senate Judiciary

Senator Dianne Feinstein said she’ll step down as the top Democrat on the Senate Judiciary Committee, a role that had put her under an intense spotlight during tumultuous confirmation hearings on President Donald Trump’s judicial nominees.

“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 said in a statement.

Feinstein said she instead will focus attention on issues of importance to her, including the wildfires and droughts in her home state of California. She said she will continue to serve on the Judiciary panel, as well as three other committees: Intelligence, Appropriations and Rules.

Illinois Senator Dick Durbin will take her place as the ranking Democrat on the panel, according to a Senate Democratic aide.

Feinstein, 87, had been a target of intense criticism from both the left and right in the Trump era.

Republicans accused her of anti-religious bias for how she handled Trump’s nomination of Amy Coney Barrett to the Seventh Circuit in 2017. Feinstein questioned whether Barrett’s Roman Catholic faith would unduly influence her rulings, at one point telling Barrett that “the dogma lives loudly within you.”

Yet some of the harshest criticism came from liberal groups, who faulted her for not being more aggressive in opposing Trump’s nominees. She came under fire from the left in October for she praised Judiciary Chairman Lindsey Graham of South Carolina for his handling of the confirmation hearings when Barrett was nominated to the Supreme Court.

Liberal groups including Demand Justice who opposed Barrett’s confirmation demanded she step aside, and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer later told reporters he had a “long and serious talk” with her about it.

Schumer, in a statement on Monday night, said he was “deeply grateful” for the senator’s “leadership and contributions to our caucus and country.” A Feinstein spokesman declined to comment further.

In a statement after Feinstein’s announcement, Demand Justice Executive Director Brian Fallon said Democrats must be more aggressive in attempting to counter Trump’s efforts to reshape the judiciary during his time in office.

“Going forward, Democrats on the Senate Judiciary Committee must be led by someone who will not wishfully cling to a bygone era of civility and decorum that Republicans abandoned long ago.

Feinstein has served in the Senate since 1992. The role of ranking Democrat will be especially important as control of the chamber is hanging on the result of two Jan. 5 runoff elections elections in Georgia. If the Democratic candidates can manage to win both, the party would take control of the Senate and chairmanship of committees.

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