WASHINGTON — One day after her long-awaited return to Congress, Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., attended her first Judiciary Committee meeting after a months-long absence after being diagnosed with shingles in February.
With Feinstein’s «yes» votes in Thursday’s election meeting, Democrats were able to send three additional judicial nominees to the full Senate for consideration in party-line votes: Charnelle Bjelkengren to be a district court judge in Washington state; Kato Crews to be a district court judge in Colorado and Marian Gaston to be a district court judge in California.
With the need for a majority and the panel split between 11 Democrats and 10 Republicans, Democrats had been unable to advance nominees without some level of bipartisan support due to Feinstein’s absence, prompting some to call for her resignation.
But on Thursday, some Democrats were relieved to be able to hit the gas again with Biden’s nominees without needing the support of the GOP.
«It’s going full speed, absolutely,» said Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn. «There are no delays or delays that I can see.»
Sen. Cory Booker, DN.J., defended Feinstein’s decision not to resign, saying that «like many other senators in our history, he had an illness.»
He has returned to the Senate. I’m excited about it. The Senate was working hard. Many judiciary nominees have gone through the Senate,” Booker said. “So, it’s great that he’s back. She is someone I have leaned on in my 10 years here as an incredible confidant and mentor.»
Sen. John Kennedy, R-Los Angeles, said he was disappointed to see Democrats promote a candidate like Bjelkengren after she failed to answer simple questions about the Constitution during her hearing, such as what Articles V and II say.
“There are a handful of President Biden’s candidates who are more activists than lawyers,” Kennedy said Thursday. “And just based on a cursory examination of them, it looks like they got their law degrees over a happy meal. And they don’t deserve to be judges. And it disappoints me.»
The meeting began just after 10 a.m. ET, and Feinstein, D-Calif., arrived around 11:24 a.m.; senators are often in and out of committee meetings and several other members voted by proxy during Thursday’s meeting. The committee approved some nominees with bipartisan support before Feinstein’s arrival and then advanced three others with only Democratic votes, including their «yes.»
Feinstein, 89, was wheeled into the committee room in a wheelchair and did not answer questions from reporters.
When Feinstein arrived in the committee room, Durbin announced his presence to a standing ovation from his colleagues. Feinstein, now without a wheelchair, walked to take his seat, appearing to say «thank you» to the applauding senators and staff. He sat down next to Durbin and shook his hand.
«I think I speak for all of us with feelings of relief and support for our colleague, Senator Feinstein, who has returned to Washington,» Senate Judiciary Chairman Dick Durbin, D-Ill., said in opening remarks earlier of his arrival. . «I know she’s been through some major health issues and we all wish her the best.»
Ranking member Sen. Lindsey Graham, RS.C., echoed Durbin in his opening remarks.
«I, too, want to welcome Senator Feinstein and I’m glad to have her,» McCarthy said.
One Biden candidate who did not get a vote today was Michael Delaney, selected to be a judge on the Court of Appeals for the First Circuit. Delaney has faced questions about his role in a school sexual assault case and it’s unclear if he has the votes to be confirmed. It is unclear when the committee will vote on his nomination.
The last Judiciary Committee meeting Feinstein attended was Feb. 16, the last day she voted before her return to Congress on Wednesday.
Feinstein defended himself against calls for his resignation last week, noting in a statement that the Judiciary Committee had put forward seven nominees who had bipartisan support and saying there was «no slowdown.»
In April, Democrats petitioned to temporarily replace Feinstein on the Judiciary Committee. Senate Republicans blocked the attempt.
The 89-year-old man was first elected to the Senate in 1992. She announced in February that she will not seek re-election in 2024, opening what is expected to be a fierce Democratic contest for her replacement.
Thursday’s Judiciary Committee meeting adjourned at noon.
Liz Brown-Kaiser contributed.