WASHINGTON — Sen. Dianne Feinstein said Monday she will step down as top Democrat on the Judiciary Committee in the new session of Congress beginning early 2021, marking a victory for progressives who pressured her to step aside.
“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.
Feinstein, 87, said he intends to remain on the committee. She won re-election to a six-year term in 2018 and her term doesn’t expire until the end of 2024.
The senator came under fierce criticism from progressives after she lavished praise on Senate Judiciary Chairman Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., for his handling of the Amy Coney Barrett Supreme Court hearing, and gave him a hug after the proceedings concluded on Oct. 15.
“I just want to thank you. This has been one of the best set of hearings that I’ve participated in,” Feinstein told Graham in the committee room. “Thank you so much for your leadership.”
Progressive groups including Demand Justice, NARAL and MoveOn.org called on Feinstein to step aside, accusing her of undercutting the party’s message against Republicans holding a the Supreme Court hearing on the eve of the 2020 election after they refused to under President Barack Obama in 2016.
“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, the executive director of Demand Justice who led the calls for Feinstein to step aside. “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.”
On Oct. 20, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said: “I’ve had a long and serious talk with Sen. Feinstein. That’s all I’m going to say about it right now.”
On Monday Schumer praised Feinstein for her work and said “Senator Feinstein’s experience, decades-long relationship with President-elect Biden, and leadership on so many issues will continue to be an asset for our caucus, California, and the country as we begin a new term with the new president.”
It is unclear if Democrats will be in the majority or minority come January — two runoff elections in Georgia will determine the balance of power in the chamber.
“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 on priorities like gun safety, immigration reform and addressing inequities in criminal justice,” Feinstein said Monday. “I will continue to do my utmost to bring about positive change in the coming years.”