GOP Wields Leverage over Democrat-Controlled Senate with Fetterman, Feinstein Medically Inactive

Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., arrives for the Senate Democratic Caucus leadership elect
AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite, Drew Angerer/Getty Images

Republicans are wielding strong leverage over the Democrat-controlled Senate with Sens. John Fetterman (D-PA) and Dianne Feinstein’s (D-CA) absence due to medical issues in recent weeks.

While Fetterman is out due to depression and Feinstein recovering from a case of shingles, the Senate is split 49-49 with Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) exerting a great deal of power in the Democrat Party. Manchin has proven himself willing to oppose some Democrat policies and vote with Republicans, such as the recent Republican-sponsored resolution to block Washington, DC’s, soft-on-crime law that caused turmoil in among Democrats last week.

Senate Republicans are able to mount a degree of pressure on Democrats by using “privileged resolutions” that bypass Majority Leader Chuck Schumer’s (D-NY) approval to come to the floor. Once on the floor, privileged resolutions only require a simple majority to pass. If Manchin votes with Republicans, the Democrat-controlled Senate is overpowered by the lawmakers’ medical absences.

The Associated Press

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., meets with reporters during a news conference at the Capitol in Washington, Wednesday, March 1, 2023. President Joe Biden will meet with Senate Democrats Thursday to discuss the budget. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

“It’s the reality. When you’re 51-49, every senator every day is decisive,” Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL) told The Hill. “This is the reality of life in the Senate.”

Senate Republicans are set to apply more pressure on Democrats this week. Republicans will reportedly push a resolution opposing President Joe Biden’s Waters of the United States (WOTUS) rule. The rule allows the federal government further regulations over American waterways.

With the Senate split 49-49, Manchin or another blue dog Democrat could work with Republicans to approve the measure and send it to Biden’s desk for his signature. The Republican effort would push Biden into a political corner, one that could force him to use a veto pen.

“Does it create challenges? It absolutely does. Does it slow the process down? Sometimes,” Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) told The Hill. “But we’re all human beings and these are the times you have to take those things into account and give as much leniency as you can.”

The Republican leverage won’t last forever. Both Fetterman and Feinstein are expected to return to work soon.
Feinstein’s return will be welcomed by the Senate Judiciary Committee on which she sits because the committee has struggled to pass the Democrats’ agenda in her absence. Specifically, her absence has caused committee Democrats to delay a number of confirmation votes for Biden’s nominees. The Hill reported the specifics:

Among the nominees who’ve been delayed is Charnelle Bjelkengren, who President Biden tapped to serve as a district court judge for the Eastern District of Washington. Bjelkengren has been the target of GOP opposition after she stumbled over some questions during her confirmation hearing.

The panel also held off on voting to advance Orelia Merchant’s nomination for the Eastern District of New York in Brooklyn and two other nominees for trial court seats in New Jersey.

Democrats hold an 11-10 advantage on the panel, but are unable to advance their nominees without Feinstein or winning GOP support for any individual nominee.

“We’re working around them,” Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) said about the absences. “Stuff happens. We’re human.”

Follow Wendell Husebø on Twitter @WendellHusebø. He is the author of Politics of Slave Morality.


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