By Morgan Rimmer and Jessica Dean, CNN
Sen. Dianne Feinstein on Thursday pushed back on claims that her extended absence from the Senate, and the Judiciary Committee, as she recovers from shingles has caused a significant delay in advancing and confirming judicial nominees. Feinstein indicated in the statement that she still plans to return but did not say when that would happen.
“The Senate continues to swiftly confirm highly qualified individuals to the federal judiciary, including seven more judicial nominees who were confirmed this week. There has been no slowdown,” the California Democrat said in a statement.
But she acknowledged that some nominees have been blocked from moving forward during her absence. Without Feinstein, the committee is tied. Under the power-sharing agreement in the last Congress, which had a 50-50 Senate, there was a provision that allowed for a tied nominee to be discharged from committee and put on the floor. That rule is no longer in place, according to an aide on the committee. So, unless a judge has bipartisan support, the nominee fails in committee and doesn’t come to the floor.
“I’m disappointed that Republicans on the committee are blocking a few from moving forward. I’m confident that when I return to the Senate, we will be able to move the remaining qualified nominees out of committee quickly and to the Senate floor for a vote,” she said.
While Senate Judiciary Chairman Dick Durbin has not called for Feinstein to resign, he previously acknowledged to CNN that the 89-year-old senator’s absence has slowed down their push to confirm nominees.
“I can’t consider nominees in these circumstances because a tie vote is a losing vote in committee,” Durbin said.
Asked if her absence has longer ramifications on the Democrats’ ability to confirm nominees, the Senate chairman said, “Yes, of course it does,” pointing to the long process of getting nominees scheduled for votes during precious floor time.
In April, Feinstein asked Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer to temporarily replace her on the Judiciary Committee, and he proposed that Maryland Sen. Ben Cardin take her spot. However, Senate Republicans made it clear that they would block any attempt to put someone else on the committee.
The committee’s top GOP member, Sen. Lindsey Graham, said at the time, “She’s a dear friend and we hope for her speedy recovery and return back to the Senate. With all due respect, my colleague, Senator Schumer, this is about a handful of judges that you can’t get the votes for.”
Feinstein announced in early March that she had contracted shingles and was hospitalized. Since then, she has been recovering at home in California. Feinstein has not voted in the Senate since February 16.
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CNN’s Tierney Sneed and Lauren Fox contributed.