FEINSTEIN GOES ROGUE…. Just a few weeks ago, Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) joined her colleagues in urging Rod Blagojevich not to fill Illinois’ vacant Senate seat, warning him that his appointment would not be seated. Yesterday, she changed her mind, broke party ranks, and said Roland Burris should be seated.

This came a day after Feinstein fired a shot against Barack Obama’s bow, criticizing his choice of Leon Panetta as the next head of the CIA.

To be sure, for years Feinstein has hardly been a reliable, consistent voice when it comes to Democratic politics, but all of a sudden, she seems to be going out of her way to be … I hesitate to use the word … mavericky. What’s up?

While Feinstein has broken with her party in the past, her double shot this week seems to have caught Democratic leaders off guard as they tried to show a sense of unity at the opening of the 111th Congress.

Feinstein, who turns 76 in June, is rumored as a candidate for California governor in 2010, and Democrats say privately that she may be breaking with her party to better position herself for that race. […]

With Obama in the White House and Democrats holding a big majority in the House, Republicans may need help from centrists such as Feinstein to stop Democratic legislation from moving through the Senate. Republicans say Feinstein is at the top of their list of potential Democratic defectors.

James Joyner made the case yesterday that when Republicans were in the majority, they became a rubber stamp for the Bush White House, and Feinstein deserves kudos for demonstrating some independence. “Feinstein and Obama are not on the same ‘team,’” Joyner argued. “Senators represent a different constituency than the president. Moreover, they represent a different institution with different prerogatives and responsibilities.”

That’s a fair point, but what makes Feinstein especially annoying to me isn’t her willingness to stand up to the other end of Pennsylvania Avenue; it’s that she seems more willing to stand up to Obama than Bush.

As John Cole explained very well, “Feinstein … did, in fact, go along with the rubber-stamping of all the Bush appointees, and she wasn’t even in the Republican party. Now, for whatever reason, she appears to be eagerly hamstringing the appointee before a hearing is even scheduled. The result, of course, is to do political damage to the incoming administration and his pick before he has ever had a chance to be questioned…. This DiFi outburst isn’t the result of a Senator seeking good governance, but someone lording over their little fiefdom, and I see no reason to cheer that kind of silliness.”

As for Feinstein doing all of this to position herself for a gubernatorial campaign, does she really believe balking at Obama cabinet choices and defending Blagojevich’s Senate appointment is going to give her a boost?

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Follow Steve on Twitter @stevebenen. Steve Benen is a producer at MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show. He was the principal contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal blog from August 2008 until January 2012.