Illinois Sen. Dick Durbin announced his intent to seek the top Democratic position on the Senate Judiciary Committee Monday evening hours after California Sen. Dianne Feinstein revealed plans to step down from the role.
Feinstein, 87, who has been criticized for her bipartisan outreach and her handling of Supreme Court Justice Amy Coney Barrett's confirmation hearings, said she would not seek the position in the next Congress.
Durbin, who has served as the Senate's minority whip since 2015, released a statement in which he revealed his interest in the position and thanked Feinstein for "distinguished leadership" on the committee during "turbulent years."
Durbin is third in seniority after Feinstein and Vermont Sen. Patrick Leahy, who is expected to remain as top Democrat on the powerful Appropriations committee.
"We have to roll up our sleeves and get to work on undoing the damage of the last four years and protecting fundamental civil and human rights," the senior senator from Illinois said in the statement. "...The to-do list for the Senate Judiciary Committee is long, and of critical importance to the future progress of our country.”
Durbin's office has said there is nothing in Democratic caucus rules that blocks him from serving in his leadership post and also as the top Democrat on Judiciary.
Feinstein, first elected in 1992, has been a powerful force in the Democratic Party and is the former chairwoman of the intelligence panel. She has not shied from bipartisanship even as both parties have become increasingly polarized.
That tension came to a head at the hearings for Barrett, when Feinstein closed out the proceedings with an embrace for Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., publicly thanking the chairman for a job well done. Democrats had fiercely opposed Barrett's nomination to replace the late liberal icon Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.
Feinstein plans to continue to serve on the Judiciary, Appropriations and intelligence panels, but said she will not seek the role of top Democrat on any of those committees.