It's not looking great for Dianne Feinstein when at least four of her Senate colleagues and multiple congresspeople and aides talk anonymously with her hometown newspaper to say she's quickly losing it and needs to retire. Now the Chronicle Editorial Board has quickly followed with a call to her fellow Democrats to get her to step down with dignity.
Thursday's not-quite-bombshell but nonetheless damning piece by the Chronicle followed about two years of fairly frequent rumors that Senator Feinstein has not been at her best, mentally. That's been on display during her few on-camera moments, like when she repeated a question verbatim during a hearing with Jack Dorsey and other social media CEOs about misinformation, immediately after asking it.
Feinstein also sounded like a dotty old lady — and not the fierce partisan that she's been in the past — when she gushed to Judiciary Committee Chairman Lindsey Graham about the marvelous hearing they had about Amy Coney Barrett Supreme Court nomination in 2020 — something that was actually a rushed disgrace ahead of the election and a gob of spit on the fresh grave of Ruth Bader Ginsburg.
The Chronicle Editorial Board notes another upsetting moment in the past two years, which was mentioned in yesterday's investigative piece — which itself was likely held back from publication for a few extra weeks out of respect for Feinstein mourning her late husband, who died in February. Feinstein was asked to give remarks at a June 2021 memorial service for former Port of San Francisco Commissioner Anne Halsted, someone whom Feinstein was friends with for decades. Feinstein reportedly got up to make her remarks, and did so without ever mentioning Halsted — instead she "offered generic comments about San Francisco and gave shout-outs to people in the audience, including Pelosi, whom Feinstein described as 'the Democratic leader in the United States Senate.'"
Feinstein then corrected herself about "promoting" Pelosi to the Senate, but when she later got to up to actually discuss the woman they were there to memorialize, she reportedly spoke about Halsted in the present tense — and everyone was fairly disturbed.
The Chronicle Editorial Board asked Feinstein about that incident, and she had no explanation.
"I meet regularly with leaders. I’m not isolated. I see people. My attendance is good. I put in the hours. We represent a huge state. And so I’m rather puzzled by all of this," Feinstein said in an interview Thursday.
And in a quote to CNN she said, "While I have focused for much of the past year on my husband's health and ultimate passing, I have remained committed to achieving results and I'd put my record up against anyone's."
Colleagues and others quoted by the Chronicle have said that Feinstein still has days when she is "nearly" as sharp as she used to be, but there are very bad days as well. And multiple Senators with whom she's worked for years have said that she does not appear to remember their names, though she often looks like she knows she's supposed to know them.
The Chronicle asked if there had been any discussions between her and staff or colleagues about her mental fitness. Feinstein replied, "No, that conversation has not happened. The real conversation is whether I’m an effective representative for 40 million people." She admits to recently forgetting some faces and names, but chalks this up to dealing with her husband's illness over the last year, saying, "I’ve had a rough year. A cancer death doesn’t come fast. And this is the second husband I’ve lost to cancer."
But the editorial board makes a good point: "denial is a hallmark of those suffering from memory loss and attendant illnesses."
And if the Democrats manage to retain control of the Senate after November, Feinstein is scheduled to take over as Senate president pro tempore when Patrick Leahy of Vermont steps down. That puts her third in line for the presidency, as SFist earlier pointed out.
"Feinstein deserves to end her career with dignity under her own terms," the editorial board writes, but they say that the time is drawing nigh for some tough talk from other Democrats — and not the platitudes that were offered publicly on Thursday from the likes of Senator Alex Padilla and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.
Pelosi fiercely defended her friend and colleague, saying, "Senator Feinstein is a workhorse for the people of California and a respected leader among her colleagues in the Senate." But if it's true that other senators now know to preemptively reintroduce themselves to Feinstein every time they run into her in the halls of Congress, we have a serious problem that people need to stop dancing around.
Update: Clint Reilly's Examiner Editorial Board pipes up with their own editorial, titled "Sen. Dianne Feinstein Gets the Job Done, Leave Her the Hell Alone."
Top image: Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) speaks during the Senate Judiciary Committee confirmation hearing for U.S. Supreme Court nominee Judge Ketanji Brown, in the Hart Senate Office Building on Capitol Hill March 21, 2022 in Washington, DC. Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson, President Joe Biden's pick to replace retiring Justice Stephen Breyer on the U.S. Supreme Court, will begin four days of nomination hearings before the Senate Judiciary Committee. (Photo by Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images)