Dianne Feinstein Is an Embarrassment

Dianne Feinstein Is an Embarrassment

The senior California senator’s defense of the filibuster is shameful—but she’s not alone, and she’s got more company than just Manchin and Sinema.

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She’s said it before. Now she’s said it again.

Senator Dianne Feinstein, holder of one of the safest, most powerful, and most lucrative Senate seats in the country, the senior senator from the most liberal state in the union, on Thursday reiterated her unwillingness to vote to torpedo the Senate filibuster that lets Republicans veto President Joe Biden’s popular agenda.

“If democracy were in jeopardy, I would want to protect it,” she told Forbes on Wednesday. “But I don’t see it being in jeopardy right now.”

She doesn’t “see it.” That’s enough to make one worry about Feinstein’s eyesight. And judgment. And more.

Despite the left’s focus on the lamentable Senators Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema (Sinema’s the worst of the two, to me, since Arizona’s electorate is more liberal than West Virginia’s), the truth is and has always been: There are other Democratic senators who oppose scuttling the filibuster, as well as others who oppose one or both of the voting rights bills that would “protect” our democracy, which is, in fact, “in jeopardy right now,” even if the myopic Feinstein can’t see it.

Feinstein told us the same thing last September, when asked about rising pressure from the Democratic base, and liberal senators, to scuttle the filibuster: “I don’t believe in doing that. I think the filibuster serves a purpose…. I think it’s part of the Senate that differentiates itself.” At the time, I hoped that if/when her candidate Joe Biden got elected, and his agenda was passed by House Democrats and blocked by the Senate GOP, she would change her tune.

But she has not.

Sure, she has vacillated about the filibuster at times, but those examples are not even worth listing here, given her clear and completely wrong statement yesterday.

At least nine Senate Democrats have unofficially formed a Not-So Progressive Caucus to block progressive legislation and throw shade at abolishing the filibuster, without always explaining why. Besides Manchin, Sinema, and (occasionally) Feinstein, it can include Montana’s Jon Tester, Delaware’s Chris Coons and Tom Carper (often viewed as home-state Biden stand-ins), Maine independent Angus King, New Hampshire’s Maggie Hassan, and Maryland’s Ben Cardin. When it came to scuttling a $15-an-hour minimum wage, not just Republicans but also Sinema, Tester, Hassan, King, Coons, and Carper went along with Manchin (Feinstein, predictably, did not, since that’s already the law in her state).

Several senators up for reelection in purple states next year, including Arizona’s Mark Kelly and Nevada’s Catherine Cortez-Masto, can also be a little tough to count on, at least for certain votes, and have been vague on their approach to the filibuster. But they’ve expressed a willingness to consider scuttling it and have been reliable on other top Democratic priorities.

Meanwhile, King and Tester are both on record saying they’d support some kind of filibuster exception for voting rights legislation, as proposed by Georgia voting rights crusader Stacey Abrams and others. “I’m very worried about voting rights,” King said. “And if it’s a question of voting rights versus a Senate rule, democracy wins, for me.”

If King and Tester can at least get that far, it’s bewildering that Feinstein cannot. Especially because she, unlike Manchin, is a cosponsor in the Senate of the voter-access-expanding, campaign-finance-reforming For the People Act, which has already passed the House. (Manchin, by the way, cosponsored roughly the same bill in 2019 that he opposes now. Did donors get to him? Stay tuned.)

Feinstein can’t truly believe democracy is not “in jeopardy,” especially given the January 6 insurrection she and her staff lived through. And on voting rights: Has she spoken with her Georgia colleagues, Senators Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff, about the voter-suppression bill their state passed right after they and Biden turned Georgia blue for the first time in ages? Has she sat down with anyone at the Brennan Center, which is tracking the 14 states that have enacted 22 new anti–voting access laws this year alone?

She ought to. Democracy “is in jeopardy” right now. Grave jeopardy, Senator. The greatest in our lifetimes.

Feinstein’s hometown San Francisco Chronicle blasted the filibuster-supporting senator last month, when the GOP used it to block a bipartisan January 6 commission to investigate the violence that occurred in her own workplace. Feinstein staunchly supported establishing a commission, but acted bewildered when reporters asked if that outrageous GOP obstruction should spell the end of the filibuster. “I don’t see us abolishing the 60-vote threshold. I don’t.” Asked if she’d vote to nix it anyway, she said, bizarrely: “This is the first time I’ve heard it. No one has proposed it. No one has talked to me about it. So it’s a non-issue.”

If that’s true—“This is the first time I’ve heard of it”—it’s a huge failure in Democratic Senate Caucus communication. If it’s not true, I’m not sure what to say. All I know is that this is a far cry from the Feinstein who championed an assault weapons ban after a 1993 massacre in a downtown business-district high-rise. Is she really less concerned about a violent mob in her own workplace?

The big political question is whether, if Manchin suddenly dropped his opposition to the filibuster, the Democratic senators hiding in his shadow would do so too. “It’s something of a symbiotic relationship,” Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez told The Daily Beast. “There are certainly more senators with reservations about the filibuster that are giving Manchin steam to stay firm. But I have also heard from colleagues that none of those other senators want to play Manchin’s role.”

Would Feinstein play Manchin’s role? Right now, I’ve got to say no. I’m waiting for a talented cartoonist to picture Manchin standing in a schoolhouse door like segregationist Alabama Governor George Wallace, declaring, “Filibuster today, filibuster tomorrow, filibuster forever.” Unfair? Um, no. That’s just how racist the filibuster is and always has been, an American “secret” that’s been hiding in plain sight for decades. Adam Jentleson wrote this book, and Vox published this explainer.

No, Feinstein would never lead this charge if there were no Joe Manchin. But her lazy filibuster defense can’t be allowed to go unchallenged. California deserves so much better.

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