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Feinstein defends GOP senators’ right to object to election results

San Francisco Chronicle logo San Francisco Chronicle 1/20/2021 By Tal Kopan
Dianne Feinstein standing in front of a door: Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., speaks during the hearing for Janet Yellen, President-elect Joe Bidens nominee for treasury secretary, on Tuesday. © ANDREW HARNIK / POOL/AFP Via Getty Images

Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., speaks during the hearing for Janet Yellen, President-elect Joe Bidens nominee for treasury secretary, on Tuesday.

WASHINGTON — Sen. Dianne Feinstein defended Republican senators who objected to Electoral College results and downplayed the importance of an upcoming impeachment trial for President Trump, diverging from her Democratic colleagues.

The California Democrat was asked Tuesday about Republicans who objected to the Electoral College results that Congress certified early Jan. 7, after a pro-Trump insurrection that resulted in five deaths had been cleared from the Capitol. Republican Sens. Ted Cruz of Texas and Josh Hawley of Missouri led the objections to President-elect Joe Biden’s victory even after members of Congress were forced to hide from the rioters, and have faced calls for censure or punishment as a result.

Feinstein, however, defended their right to object, calling Senate debate the “highest-level dialogue” in democracy.

“I think the Senate is a place of freedom,” Feinstein told reporters at the Capitol. “And people come here to speak their piece, and they do, and they provide a kind of leadership. In some cases, it’s positive, in some cases, maybe not. A lot of that depends on who’s looking and what party they are. But it’s an important place to have this kind of dialogue. It’s probably the highest-level dialogue that you get in an electoral body.”

After the Jan. 6 insurrection, Feinstein put out a statement blaming Trump for inciting the riot and asking Republicans objecting to the results to “stand down.”

Other Senate Democrats have called for Cruz and Hawley to be punished. Delaware Sen. Chris Coons, a moderate and ally of Biden, urged them to resign. Others have said that at a minimum they should leave the powerful Judiciary Committee, of which Feinstein is also a member. She surrendered her ranking Democratic position on the panel in November.

Vermont Sen. Pat Leahy, also a senior Democrat who has chaired the Judiciary Committee, told reporters, “The fact that both of them, both of them, wanted to subvert the will of the people, wanted to tell the whole world and the United States that we did not have an honest election — I can’t imagine any senator doing that, and then serving on Judiciary.”

Feinstein was also asked how quickly the Senate should move to a trial on the impeachment article that the House passed last week, charging Trump with inciting the insurrection.

“I think it’s a moot question — this president is leaving office,” Feinstein said. “So it won’t have any practical application. But whatever happens is fine with me.”

There is debate about whether the Constitution allows for Congress to impeach and convict someone who has left office. Most scholars believe it’s possible and that the courts would be unlikely to overrule Congress if it did so. Democrats say convicting Trump is important both to hold him accountable for the insurrection and to make it possible to bar him from holding future office.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-San Francisco, has yet to transmit the article of impeachment to the Senate, amid concerns that a trial will interfere with the Senate acting on Biden’s early agenda or confirming Cabinet nominees. Some Democrats, however, say an early trial won’t sidetrack other Senate business.

“We can do them at the same time. And you know, we have an obligation under the Constitution to hold the president accountable,” Connecticut Sen. Richard Blumenthal told reporters. “Whether somebody resigns or runs out the clock, it makes no difference. They can still be held accountable.”

Tal Kopan is The San Francisco Chronicle’s Washington correspondent. Email: tal.kopan@sfchronicle.com Twitter: @talkopan

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