Senate Minority Whip Dick Durbin intends to seek the top Democratic spot on the Senate Judiciary Committee, he announced Tuesday, one day after panel Ranking Member Dianne Feinstein said she would step down from the post amid near-universal party consensus against her leading the influential committee.
“We have to roll up our sleeves and get to work on undoing the damage of the last four years and protecting fundamental civil and human rights,” Durbin (D-Ill.) said in a statement announcing his intentions.
Feinstein (D-Calif.) framed her decision to leave her post as a way to better focus on specific policy areas for her state.
In his statement, Durbin thanked Feinstein “for her distinguished leadership on the Judiciary Committee during turbulent years.”
The Illinois lawmaker, the No. 2 Democrat on the committee and in the Senate, went on to decry his GOP colleagues and their handling of the committee in the Trump era.
“For the last four years, Republicans leading the Senate Judiciary Committee have turned a blind eye to the worst abuses of the Trump era. While President Trump assaulted the Constitution, the Judiciary Committee abdicated its oversight responsibilities and became little more than a conveyor belt to rubberstamp ideological and largely underqualified judicial nominees,” the statement read.
“The to-do list for the Senate Judiciary Committee is long, and of critical importance to the future progress of our country.”
Durbin, like Feinstein, has served on the powerful committee for decades. Leaders have the ability to confirm or deny judicial appointments and have oversight authority over the Justice Department.
If Democrats are victorious in the two upcoming Jan. 5 Senate run-offs in Georgia and regain control of the upper house of Congress, Durbin will be one of the most powerful lawmakers in the chamber.
The current Senate Judiciary chairman is Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC), who will return the party’s leadership post to Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) regardless of which side takes the majority.
Ahead of the 2020 election, multiple progressive groups had called on Democrats to remove Feinstein from her powerful position if the party retook control of the Senate.
The 87-year-old lawmaker faced universal condemnation for her handling of the hearings for Supreme Court Justice Amy Coney Barrett’s nomination last month, with Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) refusing to defend her conduct.
Just prior to the hearings, multiple Democratic senators spoke anonymously to Politico about their concerns over Feinstein, specifically about her being up to the task of a bruising Supreme Court fight.
The group of senators were also concerned that she would deliver a repeat of her performance during the confirmation of Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh.
“She’s not sure what she’s doing. If you take a look at Kavanaugh, we may be short two senators because of that. And if this gets [messed] up, it may be the same result,” one of the senators said of their California colleague, adding, “I think it could impact a number of seats we can win.”
A second senator echoed concerns over Feinstein, saying Democrats have discussed making changes to the seniority system purely due to concerns over her taking over the Judiciary Committee if the party retakes the Senate.
The 87-year-old senator served as the leading Democrat on the Judiciary Committee during the intense and contentious hearing for Kavanaugh, during which she faced considerable scrutiny for her timeline of events in responding to sexual assault accusations against the then-nominee.
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