Diana Feinsteinthe oldest member of the United States Senate, is struggling to recognize colleagues, follow policy discussions, and carry out the duties of her office, people close to the California Democrat told the San Francisco Chronicle Thursday. “It’s bad,” one Democratic senator told the paper, referring to Feinstein’s memory of him. “And it’s getting worse.”
According to lawmakers and former staffers cited in the report, Feinstein’s memory is “rapidly deteriorating.” The 88-year-old lawmaker has, at times, seemed to have difficulty recognizing longtime colleagues, recalling conversations and complicated policy, and “can no longer fulfill her job duties without her staff doing much of the work required to represent the nearly 40 million people of California,” according to the chronicle. Some Democrats, including House Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California and Alex Padillathe junior senator from California, disputed the report, telling the paper that she is continuing to execute her responsibilities, calling suggestions about her mental acuity “unconscionable” and “ridiculous.”
In a statement to the chronicle, Feinstein acknowledged that the past year had been “extremely painful and distracting” due to the death of her husband, the investor Richard Blum, but again disputed suggestions that she is unable to perform her duties as senator. “There’s no question I’m still serving and delivering for the people of California,” she said in a statement, “and I’ll put my record up against anyone’s.”
While the colleagues who raised concerns about her condition said that her memory lapses “do not appear to be constant,” they recounted distressing episodes that raised significant questions about her ability to govern. In one, a congressional Democrat from California who has known Feinstein for 15 years had to repeatedly introduce themself to the senator over the course of several hours of “small talk.” “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 congressional Democrat told the chronicle. “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.”
“It shouldn’t end this way for her. Ella she deserves better, ”the lawmaker added. “Those who think that they are serving her de ella or honoring her de ella by sweeping all of this under the rug are doing her an enormous disservice.”
Feinstein, whose term is not up until 2024 — at which point she will be 91 years old — has had a distinguished, groundbreaking political career — first as a San Francisco city official and mayor and, since 1992, a US senator. But speculation about her cognitive abilities have swirled in recent years, with the new yorker‘s Jane Mayer reporting in 2020 that Democratic colleagues, including Chuck Schumerhave intervened in an effort to convince her to step down after concerning episodes, including an instance in a hearing in which she repeated a question to Twitter cofounder jack dorseyseemingly unaware she had already asked it.
Other politicians have faced rumors of cognitive decline late in their careers. For instance, the late Thad Cochran, a Mississippi Republican, retired from the Senate in 2018 amid declining health and reports that he appeared “frail and disoriented” at the Capitol. Accusations of cognitive or physical decline have also been made in bad faith against political opponents. But the accounts about Feinstein renew concerns about aging public servants in a body that does not have age or term limits.
Feinstein, the longest-serving senator in California history who in November will become the longest-tenured female senator in US history, has consistently defended her capacity to lead. “I don’t feel my cognitive abilities have diminished,” she told the Los Angeles Times in 2020, following the publication of the new yorker report.
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George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism