While California Democrats in Congress met with Sen. Dianne Feinstein for a long time, they expected a serious policy conversation, similar to others they’d had with her many times over the previous 15 years.
According to Feinstein, they had to reintroduce themselves to her many times throughout the course of a several-hour chat. Instead of getting into policy, Feinstein, 88, allegedly asked the congressman the same small-talk questions, such as what was important to people in their district, without seeming to notice that the two had previously had a similar conversation.
The incident was so distressing that the politician, who spoke to The Chronicle on the condition of anonymity due to the delicacy of the subject, began raising concerns with colleagues to see if there was any way to persuade Feinstein to resign. Feinstein’s tenure is set to expire in 2024.
The talk took place a few weeks before her husband died in February. “I’ve known her for a long time and long enough to remember what she was like only a few years ago: always in command, always in control, always on top of the details, and couldn’t seem to resist a debate about some bill or some proposal.” “It’s all gone,” the legislator stated. “She was a wonderful person.”
In recent interviews with The Chronicle, four U.S. senators, three of whom are Democrats, as well as three former Feinstein employees and a California Democratic member of Congress, said her memory is fast fading. They claim she can no longer perform her job responsibilities without her team completing most of the work necessary to represent California’s approximately 40 million residents.
They claim that the memory lapses aren’t regular and that she is nearly as bright as she used to be on some days. Feinstein seemed collected as she read important questions at the March confirmation hearing for soon-to-be Supreme Court Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson, yet she repeated comments to Jackson regarding the judge’s composure in the face of rigorous questioning.
On her worse days, though, some close to her claim that she doesn’t appear to recognize even lifelong coworkers. One Democratic senator added, “It’s horrible, and it’s getting worse.” Feinstein, according to one source, has trouble keeping up with Senate talks and debates. “There’s a joke on the Hill,” a worker for a California Democrat said.
“We’ve got a wonderful junior senator in Alex Padilla and an experienced staff in Feinstein’s office.” Those who raised worries about Feinstein’s mental acuity said it was difficult to do so since they admired the senator and her trailblazing career. They all talked on the condition of anonymity because they didn’t want to risk their friendship with her or their shared acquaintances and coworkers.
They spoke to The Chronicle just before Feinstein’s husband, investor Richard Blum, died after a long battle with illness. They stated that they were also aware of Feinstein’s situation. Former staff employees who talked with The Chronicle asked to remain anonymous, partly out of respect for Feinstein and partly due to constraints imposed by their present employers.
Due to the importance of Feinstein’s capacity to rule, the Chronicle agreed to safeguard each of these people’s identities in accordance with the newspaper’s policy on confidential sources. Feinstein responded in a statement to The Chronicle on March 28 that she is still doing a good job. She said she didn’t want to be questioned.
“Flying back and forth to visit my ill spouse, who passed away just a few weeks ago,” she added, “has been tremendously difficult and distracting for me during the previous year.” “However, there’s no doubt that I’m still serving and delivering for the people of California, and I’ll stand up to anyone’s record.” In on-the-record conversations with The Chronicle, several politicians supported Feinstein’s talents, saying she asks vital questions in committee hearings, votes when necessary, and manages an office that is still a significant player on legislation and constituent services.
Sen. Tim Kaine of Virginia said that after a recent snowfall produced a traffic jam and stranded him in his car for 27 hours travelling to D.C., Feinstein wrote him a letter expressing her regret for what he had gone through. Some of these folks’ object to Feinstein being singled out when legislative history is littered with examples of older male legislators who have remained in office despite their failing health.
Feinstein has known Padilla since the mid-1990s, when he briefly worked for her. “I’ve heard some of the same concerns,” Padilla said, “but as someone who sees her on a weekly basis, including on the Senate Judiciary Committee, I can assure you she’s still doing her job and doing it effectively.”
In a letter to The Chronicle, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said she had not detected a loss in Feinstein’s memory and praised her efforts on the recent renewal of the Violence Against Women Act as well as the Supreme Court nomination. “Senator Feinstein is a tireless advocate for Californians and a respected leader among her Senate colleagues,” Pelosi added. “She travels back and forth between California and the Capitol on a daily basis, ensuring that Californians’ needs are fulfilled, and their voices are heard.”
“It is terrible that she is being subjected to these ludicrous assaults only weeks after losing her loving husband of more than four decades and after decades of exceptional service to our City and State,” Pelosi added. The new information regarding Feinstein’s illness, on the other hand, raises issues about where the line should be set in a legislative body that has no age or term limitations.