WASHINGTON – California Sen. Dianne Feinstein said Monday she will step down from her role as the top Democrat on the Senate Judiciary Committee, giving up the powerful spot after public criticism of her bipartisan outreach and her handling of Supreme Court Justice Amy Coney Barrett's confirmation hearings.
Feinstein, 87, said in a statement that she would not seek the position in the next Congress. She did not say why, but said she would instead focus on wildfire and drought issues and the effects of climate change, which are important in her home state. She plans to continue to serve on the Judiciary, Appropriations and intelligence panels, but said she will not seek the role of top Democrat on any of those committees.
“I will continue to do my utmost to bring about positive change in the coming years,” she said in the statement. She has held the Judiciary post since 2017.
Illinois Sen. Dick Durbin, the Senate’s No. 2 Democrat, said he will seek to replace Feinstein as the committee's top Democrat. He is third in seniority on the panel, after Vermont Sen. Patrick Leahy, who is currently the top Democrat on the appropriations committee.
Durbin organized the Democratic response during the Barrett hearings, coordinating an effort to focus the criticism on the court's upcoming consideration of the health care law and away from the nominee personally. He led daily news conferences during breaks in the hearings with the other Democrats on the panel while Feinstein usually did not appear.
“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 said in a statement.
Durbin's office has said there is nothing in Democratic caucus rules that blocks him form serving in his leadership post and also as the top Democrat on Judiciary.
Feinstein, first elected in 1992, has been a powerful force in the Democratic Party and is the former chairwoman of the intelligence panel. She has not shied from bipartisanship even as her state has become increasingly liberal and both parties have become more polarized.