The 87-year-old senator has visibly lost a step, but a new report features stories from (mostly anonymous) aides saying that her mental deterioration is a lot further along than we realize.
California’s senior senator (and boy, do we mean senior!) Dianne Feinstein is well known to be a little out of step with her liberal California constituency. Out of 47 Democratic or Democratic-caucusing sitting senators, GovTrack ranks her as the 18th most liberal, which is still fairly progressive, but only slightly left of the median. There is now concern, though, that Feinstein is not just out of step with the very progressive state she represents, but out of touch with reality.
The New Yorker dropped one hell of a bomb on Feinstein this morning, with an article diplomatically entitled Dianne Feinstein’s Missteps Raise a Painful Age Question Among Senate Democrats. The piece does not use the words “senile” or “Alzheimer’s,” but the inference could not be more clear.
Did anyone else catch Dianne Feinstein repeating her question to Jack Dorsey of Twitter at the hearing today?— Texan (@Texan_21C) November 17, 2020
Within 2 minutes she asked same question twice. Maybe it's time to pass the baton? She's accomplished a lot for the Democratic Party over the years..but#DianneFeinstein pic.twitter.com/EBrNWGFGRh
The video above is admittedly from a right-wing troll, but it shows something pretty uncomfortable that we all saw. During the Jack Dorsey Senate testimony last month, Feinstein asked Jack Dorsey the exact same question, twice in a row, on national television, and she was clearly oblivious to the fact she had just asked the same question twice.
“She’s an incredibly effective human being, but there’s definitely been deterioration in the last year,” one aide to a Democratic senator told @JaneMayerNYer, of Dianne Feinstein. “She’s in a very different mode now.” https://t.co/OYThV8HRbO— The New Yorker (@NewYorker) December 10, 2020
The New Yorker piece says, albeit through anonymous quotes from her former aides, that DiFi’s condition is worse than generally realized. “Many others familiar with Feinstein’s situation describe her as seriously struggling, and say it has been evident for several years,” the piece alleges. “Speaking on background, and with respect for her accomplished career, they say her short-term memory has grown so poor that she often forgets she has been briefed on a topic, accusing her staff of failing to do so just after they have. They describe Feinstein as forgetting what she has said and getting upset when she can’t keep up.”
“Feinstein’s staff has said that sometimes she seems herself, and other times unreachable,” the New Yorker continues. “‘The staff is in such a bad position,’ a former Senate aide who still has business in Congress said. ‘They have to defend her and make her seem normal.’”
There’s also some juicy Senate palace intrigue from when Feinstein stepped down as lead Dem on the Senate judiciary committee, after Trump easily rammed through his third Supreme Court nominee. Apparently Chuck Schumer had to stage an intervention, as Feinstein could not pull together any effective opposition. “Schumer had several serious and painful talks with Feinstein, according to well-informed sources” that spoke with the New Yorker.
“Compounding the problem, Feinstein seemed to forget about the conversations soon after they talked,” the magazine adds.
Dianne Feinstein is 87 years old and leading the Democrats' Supreme Court vacancy efforts. "Feinstein sometimes gets confused by reporters’ questions, or will offer different answers to the same question depending on where or when she’s asked." https://t.co/6Ox0OHClYv— Christopher Ingraham (@_cingraham) September 23, 2020
The rest of the unflatting incidents in the article are things we already know. She sat on the Christine Blasey Ford allegations during the Brett Kavanaugh hearings (at Blasey Ford’s request, BTW). She was shockingly chummy and frankly a little unsafe with Republicans during the Coney Barrett hearings.
But in many ways, the New Yorker article kind of took it easy on Feinstein. No mention of the FBI probe into her stock trading. No mention of her husband’s corrupt meddling to get a friend’s kid into UC Berkeley. No acknowledgement that her evolution into a billionaire plutocrat caricature of her former self is an embarrassment to anyone who feels that the longest-serving woman ever in the US Senate had a pretty good run in the 90s and early 2000s.
So The New Yorker wrote an entire article about Dianne Feinstein based on whispers and gossip but the media covered this for half a minute. pic.twitter.com/NeW6CQIkum— Kim Wexler's Ponytail (@MadisonKittay) December 10, 2020
The New Yorker’s article may seem like a “hit piece” on Feinstein, but makes an overall institutional point — the Senate is just too fucking old. Half the Senate is 65 or older, and five of them (DiFi included) are well into their 80s. We do not wish to be ageist, Ruth Bader Ginsburg was 87 too at the point of her death, and she was still pretty goddamn sharp at that age. But not all octogenarians are the same. Feinstein will be 91 at the end of her current term, and while it seems unseemly that former staffers are trashing her diminishing cognitive skills behind her back, that may be the only effective way we have to let voters know that it’s time to put a legacy senator out to pasture.
Related: DiFi to Non-Mask-Wearing States: 'No More Federal Stimulus For You' [SFist]
Image: WASHINGTON, DC - NOVEMBER 17: Ranking Member Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) attends a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing titled, "Breaking the News: Censorship, Suppression, and the 2020 Election" on Capitol Hill on November 17, 2020 in Washington, DC. Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg and Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey are scheduled to testify remotely. (Photo by Hannah McKay-Pool/Getty Images)