Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) showered Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) with praise as the confirmation hearings for Supreme Court nominee Amy Coney Barrett wrapped on Thursday with little drama, standing in sharp contrast to the contentious and acrimonious hearings for Justice Brett Kavanaugh that nearly blew up the Senate in 2018.
“I just want to thank you. This has been one of the best set of hearings that I’ve participated in,” Feinstein, the top Democrat on the Senate Judiciary Committee, told Graham. “Thank you so much for your leadership.”
The chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, who angered Democrats by abandoning his 2016 vow not to confirm a Supreme Court justice in a presidential election year, then embraced Feinstein in a hug. Notably, neither senator wore a mask.
Thursday’s largely drama-free meeting of the Judiciary Committee marked the final day of confirmation hearings for Barrett, a conservative judge who clerked for Justice Antonin Scalia. A committee vote on her nomination is scheduled for next week, and the full Senate is expected to confirm her by the end of the month.
Democrats called Barrett an extreme nominee cut from the cloth of Scalia who would vote to curtail health care, abortion rights, worker rights and gun restrictions, among other things. They railed against the rushed process as “illegitimate” and a “sham,” especially after Republicans blocked President Barack Obama from appointing a Supreme Court justice in a similar election year.
While Feinstein echoed other Democrats in opposing Barrett, the top Democrat on the committee took a more conciliatory tone throughout the hearing, welcoming her warmly as questioning began on Tuesday.
“It’s wonderful to see you here,” Feinstein told Barrett.
After an exchange with Barrett about the Affordable Care Act, Feinstein praised the nominee, saying Barrett’s answer left her “really impressed.”
Democrats reacted to the 87-year-old senator’s handling of the hearing and her praise of Graham, a top Trump ally who is on the ballot in November, with anger and dismay.
“It’s very hard to watch a colleague in decline. That this is occurring publicly is even harder,” said one Democratic senator, who spoke on the condition of anonymity.
“Excuse me while I go punch a hole in the wall,” Democratic strategist Adam Parkhomenko added on Twitter.
Brian Fallon, founder and executive director of Demand Justice, a progressive judicial advocacy group that urged Democrats to play hardball during the hearings, went further by calling for Feinstein’s removal from the Senate Judiciary Committee.
“She has undercut Democrats’ position at every step of this process, from undermining calls for filibuster and Court reform straight through to thanking Republicans for the most egregious partisan power grab in the modern history of the Supreme Court,” Fallon said in a statement.
Democrats landed few blows against Barrett during her confirmation hearings, thanks in large part to her evasiveness on pretty much every topic of the law. Their only success was putting Republicans on the defensive over the future of the Affordable Care Act, which is being threatened by a GOP lawsuit seeking to strike down the law in its entirety. The Supreme Court has scheduled oral arguments for the case shortly after the November election.
Jen Bendery contributed reporting.