WASHINGTON — Key Senate Republicans on the Judiciary Committee on Monday opposed the temporary replacement of Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., leaving Democrats in a quandary as several of President Joe Biden’s judicial nominees are locked up in the panel.
Sen. Rep. John Cornyn, R-Texas, a senior member of the committee who is close to party leaders, said he and his colleagues oppose the idea because it would help Democrats advance judges along party lines.
“These are, by definition, very controversial candidates,” Cornyn told NBC News. “I don’t think there’s any appetite on our side if the Democrats depend strictly on their own party-line vote to get them out of the caucus to help confirm what we consider to be controversial or unqualified candidates.”
Asked if there was a way to win over 10 Senate Republicans, breaking a filibuster and relocating, he said: “I don’t think so.”
Feinstein, 89, has been absent from the Senate for weeks after revealing she was hospitalized with shingles. Amid calls to resign her seat, Feinstein issued a statement asking her to switch with another Democrat so she could continue to serve on the panel until her return.
Sen. Thom Tillis, RN.C., came out against the Feinstein plan on Monday.
“I will vote against any attempt by Senate Democrats to temporarily replace Sen. Feinstein on the Judiciary Committee. I deeply respect Senator Feinstein, but this is an unprecedented request aimed solely at appeasing those pushing for radical, activist judges,” Tillis said. sitting in the group, wrote on Twitter.
Centrist Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, said she also opposes the transfer. “She was an extraordinary senator, and she’s a friend of mine. For the last two years, there’s been a concerted campaign to get her off the Judiciary Committee. I think that’s wrong, and I won’t be a part of it,” Collins said.
Senate Judiciary Chairman Dick Durbin, D-Ill., on Monday urged Republicans to show “a little mercy and care” to Feinstein and green light a temporary caucus change, noting that they could face a similar situation in the future.
“He’s obviously sensitive to the impact his absence has on the committee,” Durbin told reporters. “I’m not going to push her to any other conclusion. I think we can take care of this issue, we can do it very quickly, and hopefully we can find 10 Republicans who will join us in that effort.
Cornyn, Collins and Tillis are among Senate Republicans who rejected the idea, a bad sign for Democrats who, without Feinstein to replace her on the Judiciary Committee, must win over at least 10 Republicans.
Durbin did not say what Democrats would do next if Republicans blocked that request. Reorganizing the committees is subject to a filibuster, and Democrats lack the votes to change that rule.
Sen. Marsha Blackburn, R-Tenn., Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., Sen. Deb Fischer, R-Neb., Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, R.W. Other Republicans spoke out against replacing Feinstein on a temporary basis. Va., and Sen. Joni Ernst, R-Iowa.
“Probably not,” Capito said. “I think that’s an issue for them and their caucus, and I don’t think it’s my duty to find an answer to that.”
Asked if he supported a temporary change, Ernst said: “No, I don’t. We’re not going to help the Democrats.”
The GOP’s rejection of a panel replacement puts the onus back on Feinstein, who has acknowledged there is no timetable for a return and her absence is a problem for Democrats. The Judiciary Committee is split 11 to 10 between Democrats and Republicans, and a tie vote means no nominee can advance.
Cornyn said he hopes Feinstein will return, but if she retires and is replaced by a new senator, Republicans may be more amenable to changing caucus seats permanently because there is precedent for that. Changing committee assignments can be done quickly with unanimous approval in the Senate.
“It’s going to be a different set of circumstances than this one,” Cornyn said, to reshuffle the committees to accommodate a new member of the Senate. “But not on a temporary basis.”