People who work with Senator Dianne Feinstein are worried that the 88-year-old stateswoman’s mental acuity has deteriorated to the point where she may no longer be able to serve, the San Fransisco Chronicle reports.
According to the paper, four U.S. Senators—three of them Democrats—three former Feinstein staffers, and a California Democratic member of Congress, say that after 30 years in the Senate, Feinstein’s “memory is rapidly deteriorating” and that “it appears she can no longer fulfill her job duties without her staff doing much of the work required to represent the nearly 40 million people of California.”
The member of Congress, who has worked with Feinstein for 15 years, said that during a recent meeting they had to reintroduce themselves multiple times and that Feinstein “repeated the same small-talk questions, like asking the lawmaker what mattered to voters in their district,” apparently without realizing they’d just had a similar conversation.
“I have worked with her for a long time and long enough to know what she was like just a few years ago: always in command, always in charge, on top of the details, basically couldn’t resist a conversation where she was driving some bill or some idea. All of that is gone,” the lawmaker told the Chronicle in a conversation that took place several weeks before Feinstein’s husband of 42 years, Richard Blum, died in February.
“She was an intellectual and political force not that long ago,” the Rep. recalled, “and that’s why my encounter with her was so jarring. Because there was just no trace of that.”
One Democratic Senator said, “It’s bad, and it’s getting worse,” adding that, within the Senate, Feinstein has trouble keeping up with conversations and discussions.
Another source, ID’ed as a staffer for a California Democrat, told the paper, “There’s a joke on the Hill, we’ve got a great junior senator in Alex Padilla and an experienced staff in Feinstein’s office.”
In January, Padilla told the Chronicle, “I’ve heard some of the same concerns, but as someone who sees her multiple times a week, including on the Senate Judiciary Committee, I can tell you she’s still doing the job and doing it well.”
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, 82, dismissed such talk about her fellow Golden State Dem, saying in a statement to the Chronicle that it is “unconscionable that, just weeks after losing her beloved husband of more than four decades and after decades of outstanding leadership to our City and State, she is being subjected to these ridiculous attacks that are beneath the dignity in which she has led and the esteem in which she is held.”
Pelosi further stated, “Senator Feinstein is a workhorse for the people of California and a respected leader among her colleagues in the Senate. She is constantly traveling between California and the Capitol, working relentlessly to ensure Californians’ needs are met and voices are heard.”
The paper notes that some of Feinstein’s defenders “bristle at singling out Feinstein, when congressional history is filled with aging male politicians who remained in office despite their declining state.”
Feinstein herself told the Chronicle in a March 28 statement, “The last year has been extremely painful and distracting for me, flying back and forth to visit my dying husband who passed just a few weeks ago. But there’s no question I’m still serving and delivering for the people of California, and I’ll put my record up against anyone’s.”
If concerns about Feinstein’s health have been getting more attention than they might for some other extraordinarily long-serving U.S. Senators, it’s not without reason. Should the Democrats maintain control of the Senate next year, Feinstein will replace Vermont’s Patrick Leahy as the Senate’s president pro tem—putting her third in line for the presidency.
Feinstein has not said whether she will run for reelection in 2024, but she has already filed the paperwork with the Federal Election Commission that would allow her to do so.
“It shouldn’t end this way for her. She deserves better,” the California Democratic member of Congress said. “Those who think that they are serving her or honoring her by sweeping all of this under the rug are doing her an enormous disservice.”
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