GOP women lawmakers come to Feinstein's defense vs. "sexist" campaign

Photo: Al Drago/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Women across the aisle are defending Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), saying they see sexism and ageism in the calls for her to resign from Congress.

Why it matters: Republican women lawmakers say Feinstein should determine when her political career ends, not others in her party frustrated by her absence.

  • "To me it’s ageist and it’s sexist," said Sen. Joni Ernst (R-Iowa). "[I]f it were a dude would they be saying you need to step down, or you need to recuse yourself from a committee?"
  • "I don’t know if it’s age discrimination, sex discrimination, but we do know they wouldn’t do it to a man," said Sen. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.).

Zoom in: Feinstein, 89, is the oldest member of Congress— and her absence while hospitalized for shingles has made it harder for Senate Democrats to push judicial nominees through committee.

  • "She has the right, in my opinion, to decide when she steps down,” Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) said Sunday on CNN.
  • “It’s interesting to me … I’ve never seen them go after a man who was sick in the Senate in that way,” said Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) last week.
  • "When women age or get sick, the men are quick to push them aside. When men age or get sick, they get a promotion," tweeted Rep. Norma Torres (D-Calif.).
  • On Meet the Press, Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wisc.) said "it's up to" Feinstein to determine if she should resign but was "pleased" the lawmaker asked for a fill-in on the Judiciary Committee.

What's next: Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) plans to hold a vote on temporarily replacing Feinstein, he said on Tuesday.

  • Schumer added he hopes Feinstein can return to the Senate, but he wants Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.) to serve in her absence on Judiciary.
  • Democrats will need at least ten Republicans to back temporarily replacing Feinstein on Judiciary and that effort is likely doomed.
  • Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) told HuffPost that he doesn't expect "any Republicans to cooperate."

Between the lines: Rep Ro Khanna (D-Calif.), one of the first to call for Feinstein to resign, said he isn't operating on a double standard between men and women.

  • “The call for [Sen. Feinstein] to retire is simply based on her missing over 75 percent of votes, not having a clear return date, and having had years of issues fulfilling her duty," he told Axios.

Behind the scenes. Multiple Democratic women in Congress support efforts to replace Feinstein on the Judiciary Committee — and even the Senate — but they won't go public, aides told Axios.

  • A senior Democratic aide said his boss sees a double standard between men and women lawmakers but believes Feinstein's issues are impacting her ability to do her job.
  • Another Democratic aide told Axios that his boss has never believed that Feinstein should remain in her position giving her health concerns.
  • A senior staffer for a male senator said more male lawmakers might resist calls for her resignation to avoid accusations of sexism.

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