Four Democratic members of Congress, three of whom are senators, say Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D., Calif.), who is 88 years old, is too cognitively impaired to serve out her term, the San Francisco Chronicle reported Thursday.
One who has known the senator for 15 years had to reintroduce themself to Feinstein multiple times during a recent policy meeting. Her memory fails, and she has difficulty distinguishing longtime colleagues, the lawmakers said. During last month's Supreme Court confirmation hearings, she often repeated herself. "It's bad, and it's getting worse," a Democratic senator revealed. One Democratic aide even shared a joke: Californians have "a great junior senator in Alex Padilla and an experienced staff in Feinstein's office."
Reports of Feinstein's deteriorating cognitive ability have circulated for the past few years. Then-Senate minority leader Chuck Schumer (D., N.Y.) had to tell Feinstein twice to step down as ranking member of the Judiciary Committee because she forgot about their first conversation.
"It was like Groundhog Day," a source told the New Yorker in 2020, "but with the pain fresh each time."
In September, former California Democratic senator Barbara Boxer became the first party figure to suggest Feinstein should retire.
"If Sen. Feinstein were to call me today and asked my advice … I would say only you can decide this," Boxer told the Los Angeles Times. "But from my perspective, I want you to know I've had very productive years away from the Senate doing good things. So put that into the equation."
Feinstein has rebuffed her critics, saying she may forget things but her cognitive abilities have not "diminished."
Lawmakers who spoke anonymously to the San Francisco Chronicle did so before Feinstein's husband, Richard Blum, died of cancer in February.
"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," a California House Democrat told the Chronicle. "All of that is gone."
Some lawmakers defended Feinstein's mental acuity, including 82-year-old House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D., Calif.), who called the lawmakers' claims "ridiculous," and Sen. Tim Kaine (D., Va.), who said Feinstein mailed him a handwritten letter after he was stuck for more than 24 hours in traffic on I-95.
Feinstein has not held a town hall meeting in her state since the beginning of her current term. If she serves until 2024 and Democrats maintain a Senate majority, she could become the upper chamber's president pro tempore, making her third in line for the Oval Office behind Pelosi and Vice President Kamala Harris.