What happens in the Senate Judiciary Committee in coming weeks, as Senators clash over how to fill Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s former seat on the Supreme Court, will be felt for generations to come. As the ranking Democrat on the committee, California’s senior Senator, Dianne Feinstein, will be at the center of the action. At 87, she is the oldest member of the U.S. Senate, and some sources are rumored to question if she still has the mental acuity and physical vigor needed for what is likely to be a very public brawl.
Feinstein holds the title of oldest Senator by only a nose. Republican Chuck Grassley, also 87, is less than four months her junior and serves as chairman of the Finance Committee. Several other senators and representatives in their 80s hold prominent positions in both houses of Congress.
Nonetheless, Politico, citing conversations with unnamed Democratic senators, says the issue is not merely her age, but a concern that she may be growing frail, appearing to have difficulty responding to some questions, and making minor verbal gaffes that opponents await eagerly to exploit. The article observes that Feinstein appears to lean even more heavily on her staff than is customary, at times even asking them to answer specific questions for reporters on her behalf.
Her personal style may also be at odds with a political environment, which has shifted dramatically since she entered the Senate in 1992. She is seen by some as old-fashioned in her inclinations toward compromise and upholding the body’s traditions. On Tuesday, she said she opposed the idea of abolishing the filibuster, something which has been a popular talking point among many on the left.
Feinstein’s handling of the nomination of Brett Kavanaugh has also reemerged as a point of criticism. Christine Blasey Ford approached Senator Feinstein with her allegations against the nominee. Questions remain over why Feinstein and her team held onto the information from Ford for several weeks before acting.
“I’m really surprised and taken aback by this,” Feinstein told Politico when confronted with the concerns. “My attendance is good, I do the homework, I try to ask hard questions. I stand up for what I believe in.”
The first woman to ever hold ranking-member status on Judiciary, one of the most powerful committees within the Capitol, Feinstein feels her colleagues need not worry about her tenacity.
“Let me say this: I know it’s going to be a fight, I understand that,” she says. “I don’t have a lot of tools to use, but I’m going to use what I have. We can try to delay and obstruct but they can run this process through. That doesn’t mean that we won’t fight tooth and nail.”
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