Dianne Feinstein is pushing back on a report that her memory is fading and she may be mentally unfit to continue serving in the US Senate—concerns voiced even by fellow Democrats. On Thursday, the San Francisco Chronicle published those concerns from ex-staffers, four senators (three of them Democrats), and a Democratic member of Congress, with that latter lawmaker and fellow Californian noting they'd had a "jarring" recent interaction with the once "in command" Feinstein, now 88. "She was an intellectual and political force not that long ago," the lawmaker said. But in their recent encounter: "There was just no trace of that." Others told similar stories of sporadic memory lapses that seem to be affecting her job duties, leaving staff to pick up the slack.
There was some mention of Feinstein not even recognizing longtime colleagues on particularly bad days. "It's bad, and it's getting worse," one Democratic senator told the Chronicle. All those interviewed spoke anonymously, not wanting to sully their relationship with Feinstein, whom they respect. Feinstein, whose husband died in February, declined to be interviewed for that article, though she did give a statement to the paper insisting that "there's no question I'm still serving and delivering for the people of California." Other lawmakers claimed they still see her carrying out her job as needed, with some pointing out there are plenty of elderly male members of Congress who aren't being put under the microscope like she is.
A senator can only be removed from office if they die, end their term, or resign, or if two-thirds of their peers vote them out. Feinstein's current term runs through the end of 2024. Some are worried because if Democrats keep control of the Senate after the midterms, Feinstein is in line to become president pro tempore—third in line to the presidency. In a call with the Chronicle's editorial board on Thursday, Feinstein said she's staying until her term ends, rejecting the allegations of a slipping memory and faltering job performance. She also says no one has confronted her directly on this. "I meet regularly with leaders," she said. "My attendance is good. I put in the hours. ... And so I'm rather puzzled by all of this." In a statement cited by NBC News, she added she'll continue to "fight for Californians" and would "put my record up against anyone's." Read the Chronicle's original story in full here. (Read more Dianne Feinstein stories.)