Senate

Feinstein defends record after report about being unfit to serve in Senate

Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.)
Greg Nash

Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) is pushing back and defending her record after a report this week cited anonymous colleagues questioning if she was mentally fit to serve in the Senate and raising concerns about her memory.

Feinstein, in a statement, said that the “real question is whether I’m still an effective representative for 40 million Californians, and the record shows that I am.”

“I remain committed to do what I said I would when I was reelected in 2018: fight for Californians, especially on the economy and the key issues for California of water and fire. 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,” Feinstein added.

Feinstein’s husband, Richard Blum, died earlier this year of cancer.

Feinstein’s statement comes after the San Francisco Chronicle on Thursday cited four senators, three of whom are Democrats, as well as three former Feinstein staffers and a House Democrat from California, who raised concerns that Feinstein’s memory is deteriorating and questioned if she could still do her job without significant staff assistance. Feinstein routinely has a staffer with her as she goes to and from Senate votes in the Capitol.

It’s not the first report that has questioned Feinstein’s mental agility, and the senator has pushed back on similar stories in the past through interviews or written statements. Politico reported in 2020 that Democrats were privately worried that Feinstein, then the ranking member on the Senate Judiciary Committee, could not handle leading committee Democrats on Amy Coney Barrett’s Supreme Court nomination.

Feinstein then set off a firestorm among progressives when she hugged then-Judiciary Committee Chairman Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) at the end of the hearing and thanked him for how he ran the days-long hearing. Feinstein ultimately announced that she would not seek to be chair of the committee if Democrats won the majority or the ranking member if they were still in the minority. It was a significant move for a caucus that still largely relies on seniority for plum committee positions.

Sources also raised concerns about Feinstein’s short-term memory to The New Yorker in a story that published in December 2020.

Feinstein, at 88, is the oldest member of Congress. Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) is younger than Feinstein by roughly three months and is running for reelection to another six-year term in November. If Democrats keep the Senate majority next year, Feinstein is in line to become Senate pro tempore, a position that would put her third in the presidential line of succession.

Both Sen. Alex Padilla (D-Calif.) and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) defended Feinstein to the Chronicle. Some of her supporters have also criticized the stories questioning her ability to serve in the Senate, noting that Congress has had a string of aging male lawmakers.

Feinstein won reelection in 2018, where primary opponents raised her age as an issue. There have been public nudges since then for Feinstein to retire.

California Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) said that he would name a Black woman to the seat if Feinstein retired. And former Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), while noting the decision is up to Feinstein, told the Los Angeles Times in 2021 that if Feinstein were to ask her for advice, Boxer, now 81, would tell her that she’s “had very productive years away from the Senate doing good things. So put that into the equation.” 

Feinstein, in an interview with the Chronicle’s editorial board after their story published, indicated that she planned to stay for her full six-year term, which would run into the first days of 2025. Feinstein made a similar vow last year after Newsom’s comments. 

Feinstein has had a trail-blazing career both in California politics, where she has been a decades-long fixture, and in the Senate. She was the first female Board of Supervisors president in San Francisco and went on to serve as mayor. She and Boxer were the first female senators from California, and she was the first female chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee.

Feinstein, in her statement after the Chronicle’s story this week, touted her legislative record. 

“In the past few months, I successfully led the reauthorization of the bipartisan Violence Against Women Act, secured more direct government funding for my state than any other Democratic senator other than the chairman of the Appropriations Committee and secured additional funding to retain federal firefighters to help California prepare for the upcoming wildfire season,” she said.

She also told the Chronicle editorial board — which called on her to resign if she is mentally unfit in a piece published Thursday — that no one had raised concerns with her directly.

“No, that conversation has not happened,” Feinstein said. “The real conversation is whether I’m an effective representative for 40 million people.”

Tags Alex Padilla Barbara Boxer California California Senate race 2024 Dianne Feinstein Retirement

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