Lawmakers raise concerns about Diane Feinstein's mental ability to serve in Senate due to advanced age

"It’s bad, and it’s getting worse," said one Democratic senator. Those that expressed concern said that doing so was painful because they respected the Senator and her career.

Hannah Nightingale Washington DC

Fellow lawmakers and colleges have recently expressed concerns that 88-year-old Senator for California Dianne Feinstein is now mentally unfit to serve, with people noting she is beginning to forget people and previous conversations.

According to the San Francisco Chronicle, one California congress member told the outlet that they had recently engaged in a conversation with Feinstein over what she had initially assumed would be about policy.

Instead, the lawmaker said they had to reintroduce themselves several times over the hours long conversation, and that the conversation centered around small talk, rather than diving deep into policy discussions.

Feinstein reportedly asked the lawmaker what matters most to voters in their district, with no remembrance that the conversation had already happened.

The lawmaker talked to the Chronicle on conditions of anonymity due to the sensitivity of the topic.

Following their conversation with Feinstein, the lawmaker reportedly began raising concerns with fellow colleagues as to whether an intervention would be needed to persuade the Democrat to retire. These conversations reportedly took place several weeks before the death of Feinstein’s husband in February.

Feinstein’s term currently runs through the end of 2024.

"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," the lawmaker said.

“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," they added.

The Chronicle said that four US Senators, three of which are Democrats, as well as three former Feinstein staffers and the California Democratic member of Congress told the outlet recently that Feinstein’s memory is rapidly deteriorating.

"They said it appears she can no longer fulfill her job duties without her staff doing much of the work required to represent the nearly 40 million people of California," the Chronicle reported.

They said that these lapses in memory though do not appear to be consistent, and that there are some days where is is nearly as sharp as she used to be, like during the recent confirmation hearing of Supreme Court Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson.

"But some close to her said that on her most difficult days, she does not seem to fully recognize even longtime colleagues," the Chronicle added.

"It’s bad, and it’s getting worse," said one Democratic senator. The lawmaker added that within the Senate, Feinstein has difficulty keeping up with conversations and discussions.

"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 a staffer for a California Democrat.

Those that expressed concern said that doing so was painful because they respected the Senator and her career.

In a statement provided to the Chronicle on March 28, Feinstein said she’s still performing her job well.

"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," she said. "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."

Others, who went on the record, defended Feinstein, noting her performance during recent Supreme Court confirmation hearings, and that she still oversees an office that is still a strong player on legislation and constituent services.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said in a statement to the Chronicle that said she had not noticed a decline in Feinstein’s memory, and noted for example her work on the recent reapproval of the Violence Against Women Act and the Supreme Court confirmation.

"Senator Feinstein is a workhorse for the people of California and a respected leader among her colleagues in the Senate," Pelosi said. "She is constantly traveling between California and the Capitol, working relentlessly to ensure Californians’ needs are met and voices are heard."

Pelosi said 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."

Feinstein has notable made few public appearances outside of her official duties as a member of Senate committees. She has not held a town hall since 2017, and has yet to hold any local events this year, though her office has noted that she has attended numerous public events since that town hall, and that her public appearances this year could be attributed to the death of her husband and the pandemic.

Feinstein reportedly has at least one staff member with hear nearly at all times within the Capitol, with staff members guiding their senator to an extent farther than her colleagues.

In a January 20 vote on an antitrust bill pertaining to Google and Amazon favoring their own products over third parties on their sites, Feinstein was reportedly confused about the bill and what it contained.

When asked about the bill by the Chronicle days later, Feinstein reportedly said: “I just don’t know what it does, candidly. I have to look at it. What antitrust legislation are you talking about, what bill?”

Two senators that have served with Feinstein for years told the Chronicle on Wednesday that she does not always recognize them anymore.

"It’s really hard to have a micromanager who is not fully remembering everything that we’ve talked about," one former staffer said. "My biggest concern is that it’s a real disservice to the people of California."


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