Feinstein to CA Dems: Now watch me as a fully operational Kavanaugh death star, or something

Dianne Feinstein has a big problem back home. Despite her decades in the US Senate — or perhaps in some way because of them — her own state party betrayed her, choosing to endorse an upstart primary challenger rather than the entrenched and safe incumbent. California Democrats keep getting pushed to the progressive extreme by activists within their coalition, and since they’re largely free of any serious competition in the state, acquiesce rather than moderate. That leaves Feinstein under pressure to demonstrate that she can deliver more in the next six years for Golden State progressives than someone with no experience or seniority.

Oh, if only there would be a nationally televised platform for Feinstein coming up before the election ….

Sen. Dianne Feinstein has shrugged off a chorus of calls from within her party to step aside, arguing that her seniority and past achievements make her better qualified to represent California than a challenger decades her junior.

Now she’s going to have a chance to prove it.

As the top Democrat on the Senate Judiciary Committee for the coming confirmation hearings for Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh, Feinstein is about to take on a lead role in the biggest partisan battle of this election year. She’ll do so with a more progressive foe nipping at her heels back home — her general election opponent, state Sen. Kevin de León, overwhelmingly won the state party’s endorsement over the weekend — and a pair of rising-star Democrats on the committee, Kamala Harris and Cory Booker, setting a pugnacious tone for the confirmation clash. …

The Supreme Court showdown arrives as both Feinstein and her party wrestle with insurgent forces on the left that want to see more gloves-off resistance to President Donald Trump’s agenda. It’s a tall order for a Democratic Caucus still reaching for the right mix of fight and collegiality, the recipe to undercut Trump in the chaotic news cycle he’s created while staying true to its DNA.

In other words, Feinstein has all the incentives in the world to play hardball with Brett Kavanaugh. She’s facing a home-state revolt, her party’s leadership is under attack, and they don’t have many options for success anyway. Why not go for broke?

First, all due respect to Politico, it’s unclear what Feinstein is likely to “prove.” The last time Feinstein tried hardball, it was with Amy Coney Barrett on her Catholicism, and it blew up in her face with her comment about how “the dogma lives loudly within you.” Feinstein’s been on the defensive ever since, trying to explain that she wasn’t imposing a religious test on federal office when anyone who watched that exchange knows that’s exactly what she tried to do.

But let’s say for the sake of argument that Feinstein suddenly finds nuance and wit. So what? Thanks in large part to the progressives’ success in pressuring Harry Reid and Chuck Schumer to go nuclear in 2013, all Kavanaugh needs to do is keep all 50 Republicans on his side. Kavanaugh is no babe in the Washington woods either; he’s been in the Beltway since birth and has already handled one contentious Senate confirmation hearing. Feinstein could summon the ghost of Clarence Darrow and channel him for all of her question time, and it wouldn’t matter a whit. The target audience in the Senate isn’t other Democrats, and those who would be the target audience (Susan Collins, Lisa Murkowski, Rand Paul) are not likely to be impressed by Feinstein’s desperate attempts to remain relevant to the progressives back home.

No one thought Feinstein would go easy on Kavanaugh anyway. But this framing of the confirmation hearing will have two impacts, neither one good for Democrats. One, it will make any tough questioning of Kavanaugh look even more cynical and self-serving, both on the part of Feinstein and of the Democratic establishment supporting her. Two, its futility is likely to backfire, making Kevin de Léon’s case for him that Feinstein is impotent and washed up when Kavanaugh takes his seat on the Supreme Court four weeks or so before the midterms.

Feinstein better enjoy it while she can. It might end up being her last hurrah, such as it will be.

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