After three decades serving as the senator from California, a serious conversation is brewing about whether or not Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein is capable of continuing in her role.
Feinstein’s hometown paper, the San Francisco Chronicle, reported that in multiple conversations with unidentified sources, people confirmed what many say has been going on for years: The senator has difficulty remembering conversations and people she knows and depends heavily on her staff. As painful as it is to admit, perhaps it’s time this great leader steps aside.
“It’s bad, and it’s getting worse,” one unnamed Democratic senator told the Chronicle. An unnamed staffer for a Democrat in California said, “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.”
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Many of those who spoke about the 88-year-old senator did so prior to the death of her husband Richard Blum, a wealthy financier who died in February following a long battle with cancer. They say his death took a toll on her.
“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,” Feinstein wrote in a statement sent to the Chronicle on March 28. “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.”
Sen. Alex Padilla told the Chronicle that he’s familiar with the conjecture around Feinstein’s mental capacity, but he added, “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.”
Padilla is not the only lawmaker who came to the senator’s defense. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi sent a statement to the Chronicle denying that she’d seen anything out of the ordinary with regard to the senator.
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“Senator Feinstein is a workhorse for the people of California and a respected leader among her colleagues in the Senate,” Pelosi wrote. “She is constantly traveling between California and the Capitol, working relentlessly to ensure Californians’ needs are met and voices are heard.”
She added that it was “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.”
Still, numerous staffers told the Chronicle confidentially that it was a challenge working with Feinstein. The outlet reports a high turnover in her office.
“It’s really hard to have a micromanager who is not fully remembering everything that we’ve talked about,” one staffer told the Chronicle. “My biggest concern is that it’s a real disservice to the people of California.”
Feinstein began her career in 1970, serving on the San Francisco Board of Supervisors for eight years. Following the assassinations of Supervisor Harvey Milk and Mayor George Moscone, Feinstein took over as mayor of San Francisco and served for a decade.
Feinstein was elected to the Senate in 1992, and that year she and California Sen. Barbara Boxer became the first pair of women to represent a state.
Feinstein’s term officially ends on Jan. 3, 2025, but if she continues to serve through Nov. 5, 2022, she will become the longest-serving woman in U.S. Senate history.