Rumors about Senator Dianne Feinstein getting pretty dotty at the age of 88 go back well over a year now, but things apparently are getting more serious with colleagues suggesting she has some very bad days.
Governor Gavin Newsom may be in the unprecedented position of appointing two U.S. Senators in a single term, if in fact Senator Dianne Feinstein is further pushed to retire following a damning new investigative report by the SF Chronicle.
"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," said one anonymous staffer of a "California Democrat," speaking to the Chronicle.
Most of the quotes and details are anonymous, but there seems to be a preponderance of evidence stacking up that Feinstein has good days and bad days — as is often said of people declining cognitive function or dementia — and her bad days sound pretty bad.
Given Feinstein's advanced age — she'll be 89 in June and is the oldest current serving member of the Senate, beating Chuck Grassley by three months — "rumors" about her decline have been unsurprising and circulating for a while now. Back in December 2020, the rumors became louder, in particular after Feinstein seemed to repeat herself and seem "not all there" during a hearing involving former Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey. (The New Yorker subsequently published a piece titled "Dianne Feinstein’s Missteps Raise a Painful Age Question Among Senate Democrats.")
But the Chronicle's investigation finds multiple colleagues confirming all this, and suggesting things may be declining further. From the sounds of it, she sounds less and less likely to complete her term, which now doesn't end until 2024.
One Congressional Democrat who spoke on condition of anonymity described a meeting with Feinstein that occurred earlier this year, prior to the death of her husband Richard Blum in February. This lawmaker (venture your guesses among various Dems in the House who aren't Nancy Pelosi! maybe Swalwell?) says that Feinstein seemed especially blurry, and instead of the rigorous policy discussion they were used to having with the senator, it was all repetitive small talk.
"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,” this lawmaker told the Chronicle. “She was an intellectual and political force not that long ago, and that’s why my encounter with her was so jarring. Because there was just no trace of that.”
That same lawmaker told the paper, "It shouldn’t end this way for her. She deserves better. 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."
Our Junior Senator Alex Padilla, whom Newsom appointed last year to replace Kamala Harris, gave a very diplomatic statement in Feinstein's defense, saying, "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.”
Nancy Pelosi was even more pointed in her defense, telling 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 added, "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."
Well, brace yourselves! Feinstein may continue, stubbornly, not to want to step aside, and that is her right. And barring a two-thirds vote to remove her by her colleagues — something that has only happened 15 times since 1789, mostly around the Civil War — she isn't going anywhere.