The game of musical chairs that is the upper echelon of California politics in late 2020 began with the election of U.S. Sen. Kamala Harris as vice president and continued with President-elect Joe Biden naming state Attorney General Xavier Becerra his secretary of Health and Human Services. Will Dianne Feinstein create the next empty seat?
Feinstein enjoys nothing more than chairing an important U.S. Senate committee. Anyone looking on from 2006 to 2008, years when Democrats last controlled the upper house of Congress, could see this as Feinstein ran the Senate Intelligence Committee.
But left-wing Democrats stirred a national outcry over her courtesy to Republican Judiciary Committee chairman Lindsay Graham of South Carolina during the Amy Coney Barrett Supreme Court confirmation hearings, even raising questions of senility. Feinstein took this silently for a while, but when leading Senate Democrats failed to defend her, she relinquished her spot as Judiciary’s ranking Democrat, along with her plain hope that the Jan. 5 runoff races for two Georgia Senate slots might make her committee chair.
Will she now feel motivated to keep taking red-eye flights back and forth to Washington, D.C. or might she just retire quietly? It now looks like an even bet, with Feinstein noncommittal so far.
Without the responsibility to shepherd Biden-appointed judges through hearings and onto the Senate floor, Feinstein is merely one of 100 senators, with no distinguishing status. What would motivate her to stay on?
There is, of course, her avid interest in California issues from desert preservation to creating national parks and monuments to making sure her state gets the funding it’s entitled to. While paired with Harris in recent years, Feinstein did much more for California, letting Harris seek spotlights. There was no contest in the accomplishment department.
So although Feinstein is 87 years old and would be 91 if she ran for reelection when her current term is up in 2024, it’s just possible the rumors of her resignation might not be fulfilled soon.
Working quietly for this state, Feinstein will not have to apologize to anyone for the friendships and relationships she’s developed with the Republican likes of Graham and Iowa’s Chuck Grassley.
When she got in trouble, it was for doing what most pundits say American needs more of: Being kind to people across the aisle.
Far-left Democrats like Los Angeles City Councilman Kevin de Leon can’t stomach that. They would rather play smashmouth politics. De Leon, then a termed-out state senator, took that hardline approach when he challenged Feinstein in an all-Democrat runoff during the 2018 election.
De Leon’s attitude won him majority support from delegates to the state Democratic Party convention that year, but not the two-thirds supermajority needed for party endorsement.
What followed in the 2018 primary election showed how misleading the seeming leftist domination among California Democrats can be: Feinstein took more than 70% of the Democratic vote despite de Leon’s constant carping.
By contrast, de Leon scored less than 13% in that primary, but still came in second and made the fall runoff thanks to some support from mischievous Republicans who wanted an obstacle for Feinstein. Their ploy failed.
Folks who have taken over the once-noble progressive label usually miss the fact that Feinstein’s collegial approach allowed her to accomplish more for California over the last quarter century than any of the state’s other representatives in Congress — including House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Feinstein’s fellow San Franciscan.
She has created national parks, steered large defense contracts to state companies and steadfastly upheld the women’s rights so key to the vast majority of Californians.
The evidence suggests her approach still appeals to more Californians than that of any other state politician. Hence her longevity as a San Francisco supervisor, mayor and senator.
It was rare and unexpected for Feinstein to be deterred or discouraged by the kind of scoldings she got after the Barrett hearings. But she’s still pursuing California’s interests actively, showing the same determination she’s demonstrated all her life.
So despite some indications Feinstein may quit, California just might continue getting effective, firm and civil representation from her for some time to come.
Email Thomas Elias at [email protected].