‘How’d That Work Out?’: CNN Host Grills Judiciary Head Over Feinstein’s Absence


CNN’s Jake Tapper couldn’t understand the Democratic reasoning: Why be courteous in the short term if it could mean your long-term policy positions get shafted?

Tapper brought on Senate Judiciary Committee chairman Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL) on State of the Union, where he asked Durbin about California Sen. Dianne Feinstein’s lengthy absence. Feinstein took a medical leave in March after she was hospitalized with shingles and has provided vague timetables for her return, leaving Democrats unable to pass multiple judicial nominees.

“At what point did the tens of millions of voters currently lacking full representation in the Senate from California—at what point do they matter more than the feelings of a colleague whose health has been questioned for a long time?” Tapper asked, referencing the multitude of stories that have pondered whether the 89-year-old senator was still fit for office.


Durbin tried to demure, noting his friendship with Feinstein and the various personal struggles she’s endured over the last year, including the death of her husband. However, he did note that Democrats on the Judiciary Committee have been placed in a bind over her absence.

“It's a complicated situation,” Durbin said. “I hope she does what's best for her and her family and the state of California and makes a decision soon as to whether she's coming back.”

Feinstein said in a statement Thursday that she would return to the Senate to help confirm justices who have been blocked by Republicans, but she did not provide a timetable.

Those arguments didn’t seem the strongest to Tapper, who tried to lay bare how Democrats’ respect for Feinstein could impact—and potentially diminish—their policy prospects while they still retain control over the Senate.

“All due respect, sir, you and your fellow Democrats were very ginger and very polite when it came to Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg and not pushing her to retire when you had a Democratic majority in the Senate,” Tapper said. “How’d that work out for you? How’d that work out for Roe v. Wade?”

Tapper referenced the plethora of advocates urging the late Supreme Court justice to retire when Democrats had control of the Senate during President Barack Obama’s term. Obama had lunch with Ginsberg in 2013 to explain Democrats’ political standings going into the 2014 midterms, indicating they may lose the Senate—and the chance to confirm Supreme Court justices—without directly raising the prospect of her retirement, according to The New York Times. Ginsberg died in 2020 and was replaced by conservative Amy Coney Barrett, who voted to overturn Roe last year.

Durbin seemingly couldn’t come up with a solid response, instead trying to have it both ways in acknowledging Feinstein’s personal struggles while explaining their effects on the committee’s work, including what eventual Supreme Court decisions could look like if Democrats’ nominees are not passed.

“The bottom line is, though, we have in the past had members of the Senate –I can think of a handful as I’m sitting here, Democrats and Republicans— who’ve been absent because of medical conditions for lengthy periods of time,” he said. “I want to treat Dianne Feinstein fairly. I want to be sensitive to her family situation and our personal situation, and I don’t want to say that she’s going to be put under more pressure than others have been in the past. But the bottom line is the business of the committee and the Senate is affected by her absence.”

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