California Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), 87, persona non-grata in the Democratic Party’s progressive wing, is facing a growing pressure campaign to consider retiring from the U.S. Senate before her term expires in 2024, particularly as Governor Gavin Newsom (D) considers his options for a replacement for fellow Senator Kamala Harris (D-CA).
Erika D. Smith, LA Times columnist, recently attempted to balance the pressure for Newsom to choose a Latino or black woman, declaring: “Here’s a thought: We should help him out by urging Dianne Feinstein to step down early — preferably before the next Congress — so that California will have two open seats in the U.S. Senate instead of just one.”
Smith argues that doing so would be the “right solution” to Newsom’s political problem. “Representation does matter, and the more I listen to Black and Latino leaders demand it on behalf of a state that is becoming more diverse every year, the less I understand why our senior senator is still in office, blocking progress,” she wrote on Thursday.
The column has since generated push-back from some LA Times readers, who wrote letters to the editor defending Feinstein, and which the Times published under the headline: “Dianne Feinstein had a terrible week. Maybe readers can cheer her up.”
The LA Times response column cited an article from New Yorker magazine, which reported earlier this week that people “familiar with Feinstein’s situation describe her as seriously struggling, and say it has been evident for several years.”
Among the allegations, the New Yorker reports that Feinstein, 87, has a poor short-term memory, that she is sometimes herself, but at other times “unreachable,” and that she “often forgets she has been briefed on a topic.” The New Yorker also suggests that the forgetfulness allegations about Feinstein also presented themselves in a “painful” talk she had with Senator Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY).
Schumer had several serious and painful talks with Feinstein, according to well-informed sources. Overtures were also made to enlist the help of Feinstein’s husband, Richard Blum. Feinstein, meanwhile, was surprised and upset by Schumer’s message. He had wanted her to step aside on her own terms, with her dignity intact, but “she wasn’t really all that aware of the extent to which she’d been compromised,” one well-informed Senate source told me. “It was hurtful and distressing to have it pointed out.” Compounding the problem, Feinstein seemed to forget about the conversations soon after they talked, so Schumer had to confront her again. “It was like Groundhog Day, but with the pain fresh each time.” Anyone who has tried to take the car keys away from an elderly relative knows how hard it can be, he said, adding that, in this case, “It wasn’t just about a car. It was about the U.S. Senate.”
One ex-staffer, however, told the New Yorker that Feinstein — even if she is experiencing decline — remains “smarter and quicker than at least a third of the other members.” Other aides told the magazine that rumors about Feinstein’s cognitive decline were exaggerations.
Feinstein, who was anonymously thrown under the bus, according to Politico, by three of her Senate colleagues earlier this year with claims that she would botch the judiciary committee hearings for Judge Amy Coney Barrett, has denied she is in cognitive decline. On Friday, she told a reporter at the Capitol that she works hard, has a “good staff,” and thinks she’s productive for California, according to Fox News. “If it changes, I’ll let you know,” said Feinstein.
Pressure has also been coming from her hometown, where a San Francisco Chronicle columnist recently questioned: “Is it time for Sen. Dianne Feinstein to contemplate retirement?” The author, of course, strongly suggested that the answer to the question is yes.
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