Dianne Feinstein, maverick

The California senator is suddenly bucking her party's leadership at every turn.

By Alex Koppelman

Published January 6, 2009 11:35PM (EST)

It's been a busy couple days for Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif.

On Monday, Feinstein -- the incoming chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee -- put out a statement in which she criticized the choice of Leon Panetta to run the CIA, saying, "My position has consistently been that I believe the Agency is best-served by having an intelligence professional in charge at this time."

Tuesday, Feinstein spoke with both President-elect Barack Obama and Vice President-elect Joe Biden and her office released a new statement in which she took a more neutral position, but she still didn't offer Panetta her support. "I have been contacted by both President-elect Obama and Vice President-elect Biden, and they have explained to me the reasons why they believe Leon Panetta is the best candidate for CIA Director," she said. "I look forward to speaking with Mr. Panetta about the critical issues facing the intelligence community and his plans to address them."

Then, shortly after that, she was making news, once again for publicly disagreeing with her party's leaders. This time, the difference was over Roland Burris, Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich's choice to fill Obama's Senate seat. Feinstein now says Burris should be seated if and when he's able to get Illinois' secretary of state to give him the signature necessary to make his paperwork official. "The question, really, is one, in my view, of law," the senator said, according to Politico. "And that is, does the governor have the power to make the appointment? And the answer is yes. Is the governor discredited? And the answer is yes.

“Does that affect his appointment power? And the answer is no until certain things happen.”

As Josh Marshall observes, Feinstein probably has her legal analysis right. That doesn't make her public dissent on the Burris question any less embarrassing for Majority Leader Harry Reid, though.

Alex Koppelman

Alex Koppelman is a staff writer for Salon.

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