Some colleagues of California Sen. Dianne Feinstein have expressed concerns that her mental condition is declining and say they think it’s best she retires, according to a report by the San Francisco Chronicle.
The statements come less than two months after Feinstein, 88, lost her longtime husband Richard C. Blum to cancer.
Four U.S. senators, three of whom are Democrats, as well as three former Feinstein staffers and one Democratic congressperson spoke with the Chronicle “on condition they not be identified because of the sensitivity of the topic.”
Colleagues said Feinstein is experiencing severe memory loss that is affecting her ability to do her job.
One lawmaker said they expected to have a “robust” conversation with Feinstein during a scheduled meeting, as they’d done several times prior. Instead, the source said Feinstein repeated “small-talk questions” and the source had to reintroduce themselves several times during the hours-long conversation.
“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 allegedly 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.”
The account was one of several. “It’s bad, and it’s getting worse,” one Democratic senator told the Chronicle.
“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,” a staffer for another California Democrat allegedly said.
Feinstein denied allegations that she is in mental decline and said she doesn’t plan to retire.
“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,” Feinstein said in a statement to the Chronicle. “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.”
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House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said she hadn’t noticed any change in Feinstein’s cognitive abilities.
“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.”
However, there have been some public instances that gave some people pause. Among them are Feinstein neglecting to mention her longtime colleague, Port of San Francisco Commissioner Anne Halsted, when she spoke at her memorial. Feinstein was prompted to get up and speak again and then she did mention Halsted, someone who attended the memorial told the Chronicle.
“It was quite disconcerting,” the person said. “It’s clear that she’s really over the line.”
Add to that Feinstein’s decreased public interactions and the fact that she never travels without a member of her staff and some are skeptical she is still fit to serve.
Feinstein has been in office for 30 years, first elected in 1992. She is respected and celebrated as an accomplished lawmaker who was responsible for the 1994 Assault Weapons Ban, among other milestone legislation.
Before ascending to the U.S. Senate, Feinstein was mayor of San Francisco from 1978 to 1988. The Chronicle said many who admire and respect the senator think it would best if she retires with dignity to avoid any major public embarrassment.
One of Feinstein’s staffers – who said the Democratic senator had trouble following the thread of investigation for an important matter – is concerned that if she does stay in office, the memory loss will adversely impact her constituents.
“It’s really hard to have a micromanager who is not fully remembering everything that we’ve talked about,” the staffer told the Chronicle. “My biggest concern is that it’s a real disservice to the people of California.”
PHOTO: Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., listens to the Senate Judiciary Committee debate on Ketanji Brown Jackson’s nomination for the Supreme Court, April 4, 2022. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)