Abor­tion rights group calls for Fe­in­stein to lose Ju­di­ciary Com­mit­tee post

Se­nate Demo­crat draws ire for prais­ing GOP af­ter Bar­rett hear­ings

The Washington Post - - ELECTION 2020 - BY SEUNG MIN KIM se­ung­min.kim@wash­post.com

A top abor­tion rights group heav­ily in­volved in the ef­forts to stop 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 fu­eled a lib­eral back­lash against Fe­in­stein (D- Calif.), who dur­ing the Trump pres­i­dency has been a tar­get of crit­ics who say she has been far too pas­sive in bat­tling the ad­min­is­tra­tion, es­pe­cially when it comes to its ju­di­cial nom­i­nees.

Lib­eral ac­tivists were irate about Fe­in­stein’s praise of Repub­li­cans — par­tic­u­larly the com­mit­tee chair­man, Sen. Lind­sey O. Gra­ham (S.C.) — for how they had con­ducted Bar­rett’s con­fir­ma­tion hear­ings, which con­cluded Thurs­day. Bar­rett 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 was all the more re­mark­able be­cause Fe­in­stein has been a long­time ad­vo­cate of abor­tion rights. That has been rec­og­nized by NARAL — ev­ery year since 2016, Fe­in­stein had re­ceived a 100 per­cent on the abor­tion rights group’s con­gres­sional score­card, mean­ing 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 elec­tion.

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

Sen. Pa­trick J. 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 Se­nate Ap­pro­pri­a­tions Com­mit­tee.

Sen. Richard J. Durbin (D-ill.) is next in line af­ter Fe­in­stein, but it is un­clear whether he can hold a com­mit­tee chair­man­ship while si­mul­ta­ne­ously be­ing the Se­nate Demo­cratic whip, which is the No. 2 po­si­tion in the cau­cus and comes with its 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 Trump’s picks to the bench.

At the con­clu­sion of the hear­ing, Fe­in­stein thanked Gra­ham for how he led the pro­ceed­ings, and the two sen­a­tors hugged — both mask­less de­spite con­cerns about the coron­avirus 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 forth. 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.

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