WASHINGTON - Grassroots pressure on Democrats to oust Dianne Feinstein from atop the Senate Judiciary Committee has spilled out into the open since the end of last week's Supreme Court confirmation hearings for Amy Coney Barrett.
Feinstein, an 87-year-old California Democrat serving her fifth full term, drew criticism from progressives for her conduct as ranking member during the hearings, particularly when she praised - and then hugged - Chairman Lindsey Graham.
"Mr. Chairman, I just want to thank you. This has been one of the best set of hearings that I have participated in, and I want to thank you for your fairness and the opportunity of going back and forth. It leaves one with a lot of hopes, a lot of questions, and even some ideas, perhaps some good bipartisan legislation we can put together to make this great country even better. So thank you so much for your leadership," she told the South Carolina Republican on Thursday as the four days of hearings wrapped up.
A preeminent criticism of Senate Democratic leaders and outside groups has been that Barrett's nomination has been jammed through inappropriately so close to the election. Feinstein's comments cut across that line of attack.
She will again be expected to play a leading role during Thursday's committee markup of the nomination and again Friday and over the weekend as the nomination moves to the Senate floor.
Feinstein says Democrats accomplished what they set out to do in last week's hearings by focusing on health care and abortion rights, especially since Republicans had made it so clear that it would be all systems go for Barrett to be confirmed, regardless of what the Democratic minority might attempt.
"The Senate is structured so the majority had absolute control over this process," Feinstein said in a statement. "When Republicans signaled they'd move ahead in the face of all objections, the only thing we could do was show this nominee would radically alter the court, and we accomplished that."
But an array of liberal outside groups are already pressing for Feinstein to be removed from her perch atop the committee, especially if Democrats succeed in taking the Senate majority after Election Day.
Ilyse Hogue, president of NARAL Pro-Choice America, was among the leaders of outside groups calling for the Democrats to appoint a new leader of the committee.
"Americans - whose lives hang in the balance - deserve leadership that underscores how unprecedented, shameful and wrong this process is. The Ranking Member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Senator Dianne Feinstein, failed to make this clear and in fact offered an appearance of credibility to the proceedings that is wildly out of step with the American people," Hogue said in a statement.