Supreme Court

‘I was screaming at the TV’: Anti-Kavanaugh activists frustrated with Feinstein

Sen. Dianne Feinstein’s style is to work behind the scenes, craft careful arguments and lobby fellow members. But that’s not what a lot of activists protesting Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh want.

As the top Judiciary Committee Democrat, the California senator’s role is to lead the Senate fight against Kavanaugh.

But activists are criticizing her both in Washington and back home.

In California, she’s facing a re-election challenge from Kevin de Leon, a progressive who’s upping the pressure, calling her performance a “failure of leadership.”

In Washington, hundreds of people marched just outside the Capitol Thursday to the steps of the Supreme Court, yelling “no, no no,” concerning Kavanaugh’s nomination.

Many, such as Anke Masters, 57, who lives in Maryland, said they needed to see sharper language from Democrats such as Feinstein.

“Democrats are trying to debate, but Republicans are willing to steamroll over everything,” Masters said. “The Democrats are bringing a knife to a gun fight — they’re trying to hold onto normalcy, and that time is gone.”

Others blamed Feinstein’s age for her lack of fire. The senator is 85 and has served in the Senate since 1992.

“I don’t think that she’s too up for the fight,” said Paula Lennon, 55, of New York City. “She’s there, she’s present and she has a voice. That’s wonderful and that’s great. But I don’t think she can be as active as she wants to be. … I think she’s a little slower, that comes with age and it’s natural.”

Others appreciated Feinstein’s cautious style, however. Nathalie Johnson, 55, who lived in California for 27 years but now lives in Maryland, said she doesn’t know what else Feinstein could have done apart from coming out earlier with accuser Christine Blasey Ford’s letter alleging Kavanaugh sexually assaulted her 36 years ago.

“But I still think I would’ve handled it the same way,” Johnson said of Feinstein. “I do feel she has been a very strong voice, and as the leading woman up there speaking, I was very proud of her.”

Feinstein received Blasey Ford’s letter in July, and asked the FBI to investigate after the existence of the letter went public last month. At the time, the FBI did not conduct a probe because Republicans didn’t want one.

Democratic groups understand the frustration.

“People are very frustrated right now, so sometimes it feels refreshing and freeing to see that emotion expressed by our representatives,” said Christina Reynolds, vice president of communications at EMILY’s List, a group that supports female candidates who support abortion rights. “But just because you don’t show that you’re frustrated doesn’t mean you’re not acting.”

Feinstein hosted press conferences this summer opposing Kavanaugh’s nomination. She asked polite but firm questions during his first set of hearings before the committee.

Last week, a second set of hearings with Kavanaugh and Blasey Ford resulted in sharp words from both Democrats and Republicans. For many opposing Kavanaugh, Feinstein’s remarks came off as muted when they wanted anger.

“They should’ve gone after him,” said Delane Lewis, 53, of Maryland, who was marching in protest of Kavanaugh Thursday. “I was screaming at the TV.”

Feinstein doesn’t shy away from sharp language, but raised voices and walkouts — as some other Democrats employed during the hearings — are not her way.

The day after last week’s hearing, behind closed doors, Feinstein’s promises to support a week-long FBI investigation to Republican Jeff Flake of Arizona helped trigger the investigation into Kavanaugh’s background.

After the investigation concluded Thursday, she hosted another press conference alongside Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-New York, saying plainly it “appeared (the White House) blocked the FBI from doing its job.”

“It looks to be the product of an incomplete investigation that was limited, perhaps by the White House,” Feinstein said, cautiously adding, “I don’t know.”

Outside, hundreds of protesters were getting ready for their march to the Supreme Court.

“We can always do more,” Lewis said. “I wish they were raging with us right now.”

McClatchy reporter Kellen Browning contributed to this report.
Kate Irby: 202-383-6071; @KateIrby