Feinstein Stepping Down

The 87-year-old former San Francisco mayor isn't woke enough.

POLITICO (“Dianne Feinstein to step down as top Democrat on the Senate Judiciary panel“):

Sen. Dianne Feinstein plans to step down as the top Democrat on the Senate Judiciary Committee in the next Congress, after facing blowback from progressives for her handling of Amy Coney Barrett’s contentious Supreme Court confirmation hearing.

Three people familiar with the matter told POLITICO, which Feinstein soon confirmed.

“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,” the California Democrat said in a statement. “I look forward to continuing to serve as a senior Democrat on the Judiciary, Intelligence, Appropriations and Rules committees as we work with the Biden administration.”

Feinstein added that she planned to focus her attention on combating climate change and the coronavirus pandemic.

Members of her own party had expressed concern before Barrett’s hearing that the 87-year-old wouldn’t be aggressive enough. Her approach to the battle over filling the seat left by the late Ruth Bader Ginsberg soon confirmed many Democrats’ fears, particularly after she praised Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) for his handling of the process and gave him a hug at the conclusion.

Shortly after the hearings, several liberal groups called on her to resign from her position. One of those groups, Demand Justice, applauded her decision to step down.

“This was a necessary step if Democrats are ever going to meaningfully confront the damage Donald Trump and Mitch McConnell have done to the federal judiciary,” said Brian Fallon, executive director of Demand Justice. “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.”

After the hearings, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) said he had a “long and serious” talk with Feinstein. Senate Minority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) is next in line for the job, followed by Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.).

As a former Republican who’s now a de facto Democrat, I find it interesting that Feinstein, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, have aged from being among the leftmost figures in American politics into the target of progressive firebrands. Pelosi, though, has managed to maintain her power despite being insufficiently aggressive for the Squad by being so effective at managing her coalition. Feinstein likely sealed her fate by hugging Lindsay Graham and praising him for his conduct in the Barrett hearings.

At 87, Feinstein is well past the point where she should have retired. And I do think she’s operating as if she’s in the Senate she joined in 1992, not the one that has evolved from years of partisan escalation under Harry Reid and Mitch McConnell.

While I’m not quite sure what progressives expected her to do in the Barrett hearings—especially after she was so roundly criticized for going after her religious views in her previous confirmation for the Court of Appeals—she certainly wasn’t a roadblock to the inevitable.

FILED UNDER: Congress, Law and the Courts, US Politics
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. charon says:

    Stepping down from Judiciary is just partial disengagement.

    Given her expressed support for the filibuster and her possible increasing dottieness, it’s not just the woke who would like to see her gone completely.

    19
  2. HarvardLaw92 says:

    I think maybe it’s more a case of she’s a relic of a time – and a Senate – which no longer exists beyond perhaps in her head and our memory. I can’t blame her for wanting that era to return; I miss it as well. That said, acknowledging the political reality of today’s environment – that we need a wartime consigliere and she just ain’t it – isn’t really a progressive bailiwick. It’s just acknowledging reality.

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  3. Dave Schuler says:

    Could this be a signal she doesn’t think that Democrats will get a Senate majority?

    1
  4. HarvardLaw92 says:

    @Dave Schuler:

    The legitimate odds of that occurring are slightly more than zero, tbh. I won’t speculate on whether she was shown reality or recognized it on her own, but at the end of the day it’s the same ending – she’s not up to the fight that’s coming and knows it.

    4
  5. wr says:

    Feinstein one of the leftmost figures in American politics? Seriously? Even as mayor of San Francisco, she was always on the side of the developers and the money guys. She was always far less liberal than her colleague Barbara Boxer — who really was a darling of the left. Feinstein is a centrist, corporatist Democrat. If she didn’t hail from California, no one would ever call her anything else.

    28
  6. Jen says:

    Glad she’s stepping down from this post. I do wish all of those in the House and Senate who are getting up there in years would consider retiring. Grassley, Feinstein, McConnell–it’s crazy that these people are in their upper 70s and 80s and still in office.

    7
  7. gVOR08 says:

    She will be 91 when her term expires. Wasn’t gerontocracy a big concern a couple weeks ago?

    8
  8. Kingdaddy says:

    Feinstein was liberal to the extent that she lacked strong leftist opposition during her terms as mayor and senator. Otherwise, she was a very typical wealthy San Francisco elite member, who may have tilted left, but was anything but a progressive firebrand.

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  9. Kingdaddy says:
  10. gVOR08 says:

    @Kingdaddy: Excellent point. When it comes to us proles v the plutocrats, her sympathies may be suspect.

    1
  11. Jay L Gischer says:

    There was a piece just the other day that James quoted describing Lindsay Graham giving Kamala Harris a fist bump on her return to the Senate after the election. I remarked on it. I expect that even today, Senators are more friendly with one another than their base is. And really, they have more in common than most of their respective voters.

    6
  12. Jen says:

    @Jay L Gischer: When I was a state senate staffer, I observed this. Because it’s a fairly exclusive and small club, it’s hard to be a real @sshole to your colleagues. Sure, there are some personality differences (always, always the case), but for the most part, Senates, whether at the state level or US, are pretty club-y spaces.

    2
  13. gVOR08 says:

    @Jay L Gischer: I’ve noticed that, particularly among country club Republicans, saying someone is an asshat is way more of a sin than being an asshat. Which partly explains why we have so many asshats.

    8
  14. Sleeping Dog says:

    @Jen:

    And Ted Cruz is the exception that proves the rule.

    7
  15. James Joyner says:

    @wr:

    Feinstein is a centrist, corporatist Democrat. If she didn’t hail from California, no one would ever call her anything else.

    That’s likely fair. From the perspective of where I was when she was first elected to the Senate in 1992, she certainly seemed pretty far left.

    2
  16. James Joyner says:

    @gVOR08:

    She will be 91 when her term expires. Wasn’t gerontocracy a big concern a couple weeks ago?

    Sure. I noted as much in the OP: “At 87, Feinstein is well past the point where she should have retired.”

    But, aside from energy/health/mental acuity, etc. the related thing (that I’ve also written about more than once) is that the passage of time means that people who were once fairly liberal become moderates and eventually fossils. Their views just don’t update fast enough to keep up with social mores.

    3
  17. MarkedMan says:

    @James Joyner:

    Their views just don’t update fast enough to keep up with social mores.

    There is truth in that, but I also think that age and experience also has some moderating influence. Certainly my daughter and I are equally passionate about politics, but I have a much more nuanced view of human behavior and motivations, whereas she has more of an on-off switch approach. From time to time I ask her what someone just born today will judge her harshly about. She’s still at the point where that’s not a meaningful question. Only bad people have different opinions about the issues she cares about, and she’s not a bad person.

    I’m more of a “there but for the grace of god go I” but I suspect that has come with age.

    8
  18. al Ameda says:

    I am a native San Franciscan, a Bay Area Resident for most of my life. I have a lot of respect for Dianne Feinstein. Basically, she’s a centrist Democrat, a kind of throwback to a time when it was still possible for centrist politicians of both parties to be elected around the Bay – Dianne, and Republicans like Pete McCloskey and Tom Campbell.

    She took the reins in San Francisco in at an incredibly hard time in 1978, when the city was shattered by the assassinations of Mayor George Moscone and Supervisor Harvey Milk, and by the mass murder/suicide in Jonestown by a Rev Jim Jones, a charismatic narcissist who was well connected to the San Francisco political establishment. In a way, psychologically, it felt like the city was in post war Dresden condition – smoldering ashes. She took over and with a firm steady hand, guided the city through a terrible time.

    All that said, at 87 and coming off what I think was a basic mishandling of the sexual misconduct allegations at the Kavanaugh Hearings, I think its obvious that Dianne has lost a few steps in the past 36 months. Dianne’s time is over, her term is up in 2022. As Charles Barkley says, no one beats Father Time.

    An aside, I think Rep. Katie Porter has to be considered an early favorite, although her House seat in Irvice CA is no guarantee.

    10
  19. just nutha says:

    @James Joyner: Certainly a good point, but in 1992, I was still pretty conservative by comparison to even my conservative peers. By the time that I had gotten to Korea in 2007, my adult students were noting that the same basic world view I’d had since I was younger was “pretty liberal, for an older person.”

    1
  20. James Joyner says:

    @MarkedMan:

    Certainly my daughter and I are equally passionate about politics, but I have a much more nuanced view of human behavior and motivations, whereas she has more of an on-off switch approach.

    Oh, absolutely. At 55, I have a whole lot more nuanced view than I did at 35—or that my 21-year-old college senior stepdaughter has now. And it’s possible that, if I live to 85, my worldview will have expanded further. But it’s more likely that “new” developments will be increasingly hard for me to adjust to.

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  21. Teve says:

    Progressive Punch rates her as the 34th most liberal senator.

    2
  22. MarkedMan says:

    @James Joyner: I hear you. Sometimes I think about what might one day become acceptable that I would just be unable to accept myself. There are glimmerings. There is a constant assault on freedom of speech from the moralists and absolutists of every political persuasion. If the right manages to get a constitutional amendment to make it illegal to speak against Christianity I’ll fight it and feel noble, but if the left manages an amendment to criminalize speech that makes people feel “unsafe”, well, I’ll fight it just as much but suspect that given my friends and family I could end up being the bigot uncle at the Thanksgiving table. C’est le guerre.

    4
  23. Gustopher says:

    @James Joyner:

    But, aside from energy/health/mental acuity, etc. the related thing (that I’ve also written about more than once) is that the passage of time means that people who were once fairly liberal become moderates and eventually fossils. Their views just don’t update fast enough to keep up with social mores.

    I don’t think that’s true. You either believe people should be equal and free to do what they want, or you don’t.

    The former group’s beliefs age just fine, with the exception of some antiquated terms, and occasionally needing someone to say “look at this… use your eyes to look at this, and then use that big brain of yours to think about whether it is wrong, even though it’s been happening your entire life.” They can be prodded along, with young folks rolling their eyes a bit.

    That latter group are just going to get worse and worse.

    No one is totally in that first group, but a lot of people are pretty close. You are way more “woke” than you were a decade ago, but you still complain about “wokeness” and “identity politics” because you spent too much time steeping your brain in a frothy mix of right wing media. But, when you’re 90, you’ll be saying things like “I don’t know why anyone would want to marry a genetically engineered dolphin, but whatever, so long as the dolphin is paying taxes…”

    3
  24. MarkedMan says:

    @Gustopher: “Woke” is a term that has come to mean something different over time. It used to mean becoming aware of someone’s situation in a way you just had never thought about before. For an example, see my comments on the open thread about dressing as a bum for Halloween. I’ve now become woke in that original sense, in that I now see the homeless in a completely different way and can no longer be comfortable dressing up like that. This use of the term implies that there is a before and after woke-ness, and further implies that anyone, good or bad, can become work or not yet be woke.

    Today, I think the meaning has shifted. People who think the “right way” are woke, and people who are not woke are bigots. Differences of opinion are not allowed. For example, I think it should make no difference if my coworker or friend is transgender. So I’m woke, right? All is good? But I also think that individuals who have developed as males through puberty and then re-gender as females are likely to have more have muscle mass and bone structure than someone who developed like a man and, as long as we have male sports and female sports, have an unfair advantage in competitions that favor those characteristics. Resolving this is going to be unfair to either the transgendered person or to those people who were genetically female from birth, and I think it is the lesser of two evils to reserve women’s competition to people who were genetically female before puberty. (This is just a theoretical discussion. As a crusty old man, it’s not really my place to decide.) In other words, not woke. And in this version of woke-ness, it’s not enough that I’m wrong, but I must be called out and castigated. Put in my place, if you will.

    4
  25. Kurtz says:

    @James Joyner:

    From the perspective of where I was when she was first elected to the Senate in 1992, she certainly seemed pretty far left.

    We can all take a lesson from you regarding the willingness to evolve and consider opposing positions.

    At the same time, I also agree with this from @Gustopher:

    You are way more “woke” than you were a decade ago, but you still complain about “wokeness” and “identity politics” because you spent too much time steeping your brain in a frothy mix of right wing media.

    However, it is more complex than a “frothy mix of right wing media.”

    My criticism is this “far left” phrase that gets repeated ad nauseum. I recognize that you are speaking in terms of your evolution. But you still show the same tendencies* that led you to believe that Feinstein seemed so far left, despite her membership in the Senate NDC–the third way that gave us a laundry list of misguided policy.

    Your willingness to recognize error is only half the battle. It seems to me that you employ a similar process of evaluation that led you to that view almost 30 years ago.

    Changing process is what matters. As hard as it is to let go of a firm position, it’s even harder to untangle where you went wrong in the first place. But it’s still essential.

    *In addition to Gustopher’s examples, I would add “virtue signaling” to the mix. But that’s just a potshot. 😉

    4
  26. Gustopher says:

    @Kurtz:

    In addition to Gustopher’s examples, I would add “virtue signaling” to the mix. But that’s just a potshot

    Compared to “Fuck Your Feelings” Vice Signalling, Virtue Signalling is lovely.

    3
  27. Gustopher says:

    @MarkedMan: I would say that there is “woke” and “twitter woke”. You are describing the latter.

    “Twitter Woke” is unattainable. There will always be something that you merely support rather than celebrate. A handful of people will complain on twitter, no one else will care.

    3
  28. Jay L Gischer says:

    My understanding of the impact of aging (a topic in which I take a great personal interest) suggests that while aging will have an impact on performance, slowing people down in a variety of ways, it need not have any impact at all on decision making, absent particular illnesses which are by no means universal among older people.

    So, they are anticipating the need for some “performance” out of the Judiciary Committee in the next term. Someone like Breyer may be looking to retire and get a replacement. Feinstein may not be up to that performance. But she might still be up to a great deal of work that goes on but doesn’t attract much media attention, because it’s basically decision making and staff management.

  29. JohnSF says:

    @Gustopher:
    I may be woke.
    But preferably not before 9am.

    4
  30. Kurtz says:

    @Gustopher:

    I would say that there is “woke” and “twitter woke”. You are describing the latter.

    “Twitter Woke” is unattainable. There will always be something that you merely support rather than celebrate. A handful of people will complain on twitter, no one else will care.

    Yeah, you would have to eschew consumption of any kind to meet Twitter woke standards.

    Lennon was a pretty awful person at times, even by the standards of his day. I will never stop listening to The Beatles.

    I may watch The Usual Suspects or Seven again at some point and appreciate Spacey’s performances.

    I may enjoy Chick-Fil-A in the future too.

    People are people; every one of us makes mistakes. We must allows space for contrition and redemption, otherwise we turn into the Westboro Baptist Church of the left.

    2
  31. Teve says:

    @Kurtz: 80% of ‘cancel culture’ complaints are alternate ways to say ‘I’m a 55 yro white comedian and now my trans joke causes college kids to yell at me UNFAIR!”

    4
  32. Michael Reynolds says:

    @al Ameda:
    I was in the Bay Area until 1979 and that’s my view of the situation and Feinstein as well. It was not a happy city or region at that point. DiFi gave you the ‘Relax, I got this,’ feeling.

    1
  33. Michael Reynolds says:

    @Gustopher: @Kurtz:
    @Teve:

    I think there is some logic to refusing to consume the product of someone you know to be a bad person. But only if the reasoning has to do with financial support. If you’ve seen a movie, read a book, looked at a painting and later found out the creator is objectionable, the only person you’re hurting by refusing to enjoy their work is yourself. Once the creator has created and you’ve consumed it’s yours now.

    2
  34. MarkedMan says:

    @Michael Reynolds: I hear you, but there are creators that I just know too much about and that inevitably leads to a break in mimesis when I try to consume their media. Bill Cosby. Woody Allen. And on the just plain weird side, Tom Cruise. Ezra Pound. No going back there.

    1
  35. DrDaveT says:

    @MarkedMan:

    I hear you, but there are creators that I just know too much about and that inevitably leads to a break in mimesis when I try to consume their media. Bill Cosby. Woody Allen. And on the just plain weird side, Tom Cruise. Ezra Pound. No going back there.

    I agree with you, and I have the same reaction to Cosby and Cruise (among others). But that’s about us, and our personal reactions. It’s another long step from there to saying that other people ought to have that same reaction, and that they are damaged/evil/complicit if they don’t.

    I seriously wish I knew less about Tchaikovsky than I do. And Wagner. And Carlo Gesualdo. And…

    2
  36. Grewgills says:

    @MarkedMan:
    With Allen and Cosby, they are so much of their product that I don’t know how people can separate the two. With people that aren’t as front and center in their art it’s easier (for me at least) to still enjoy their art, even if I don’t want to support them financially.
    I have a copy of Chinatown from before I knew Polanski was a dirtbag. I can still enjoy it, but I wouldn’t buy another copy if I lost my dvd.

    1
  37. Gustopher says:

    @Michael Reynolds:

    If you’ve seen a movie, read a book, looked at a painting and later found out the creator is objectionable, the only person you’re hurting by refusing to enjoy their work is yourself. Once the creator has created and you’ve consumed it’s yours now.

    The author only does part of the creation, the rest is done by the audience as they interact with it. Let’s say 80-20. If the author is truly vile, the 20% that the audience creates can be completely poisoned by it.

    Watch a movie with Kevin Spacey and a young man, knowing what we know, and it changes the scenes — although it actually makes his character’s motivation at the end of Baby Driver make a lot more sense, you squirm when you see him get close to the kid in Superman Returns. When Louis CK appears and makes a reference to masturbating, it’s different.

    1
  38. Unsympathetic says:

    Nothing to do with woke.. This should be known instantly by anyone dealing with older family members. Hugging Lindsay Graham saying “This is an amazing/the best __” [day, proceeding, etc] is a sign of dementia, period dot. The rest is cover.

    1
  39. Michael Reynolds says:

    @DrDaveT: @Gustopher: @Grewgills: @MarkedMan:

    The problem we have is that we only know the backgrounds of a small number of creatives. If we knew more I suspect we’d quickly discover that the only movies we can enjoy involve Ron Howard and Tom Hanks.

    The censorious line of thinking is advantageous to 1) Good Guys 2) Bad Guys who’ve managed to keep it secret – liars and hypocrites.

    It disadvantages a) Former Bad Guys who reformed. b) All creatives because only creatives and politicians get this treatment. IOW: advantage Bad Guys who aren’t creatives. c) Society as a whole in that it reduces the available talent pool.

    Does a Louis CK joke about masturbation land differently? Sure. Is the rest of his routine still funny? Yes.

    You give a pass to Bad Guys who’ve managed to conceal their true natures. You incentivize hypocrisy and dishonesty while disincentivizing transparency. And in the process you deprive yourself of some brilliant work. Extend this thinking to society at large, and across time, and you destroy the cultural heritage of the western world.

  40. Grewgills says:

    @Michael Reynolds:
    Unequal information is certainly an issue here. I’m less likely to know whether the owner of a local store is some sort of dirtbag, but if I do learn that he is I’ll probably shop elsewhere whenever I can. Likewise if I find out a living artist is a dirtbag I won’t want to financially support them. In some egregious cases my feelings about the person elicit a reaction from just seeing them on screen, when that person is basically portraying (or pretending to) their public persona, as Cosby and Woody Allen famously did in most of their work, then their work is destroyed for me.
    If I don’t have to see the person it’s easier for me to compartmentalize. Seeing Cosby play Heathcliff Huxtable will never work for me. The character he was portraying was to close to the public persona he put out, there is too much of him there for it to not poison the show for me. Seeing Spacey near a child in a movie would probably also pull me up.
    Looking at a piece of art, reading a book, or watching a play from a dead person that was horrible in life doesn’t destroy the work for me. I might not want to lionize the person, but I can still appreciate the art. Like I said before, I can enjoy Chinatown, as long as I’m not putting more money in Polanski’s pocket. Similarly, there are a lot of great movies that Harvey Weinstein had his fingers in. I can still enjoy those movies even if I don’t want to pay for them, if money will go into his pocket.
    That said, like you say, we can’t know everything about everyone and there are a lot of secret dirtbags.