Let Dianne Feinstein leave the Senate on her own terms
The senior senator from California.
Photo: Stefani Reynolds-Pool/Getty Images
At the time, I worked for a US senator who decided to retire in his late 50s. He didn’t have to. He was a very sure bet for re-election and had great seniority, influence and prestige in the Senate. Nor was he greedy and anxious to take up gainful employment in the private sector. Asked about his decision, he said within earshot: “I thought it was time to leave when I could still do something else or stay here until I die.”
Many senators have chosen the latter route; there are currently seven octogenarians in the US Senate. The eldest, 88-year-old Dianne Feinstein, has two more years until her fifth full term in Washington, D.C. Her hometown San Francisco newspaper yesterday the Chroniclepublished a lengthy article full of anonymous quotes suggesting she might be “mentally unfit to serve”, as the title bluntly puts it.
The play can be interpreted – to put it even more bluntly – as an effort to push Feinstein into retirement, perhaps by some of the colleagues and staff who chose not to identify themselves while recounting the incidents. of the senator having memory lapses and not recognizing old friends and associates. It is highly likely that there are ambitious politicians in California who would rather run for a gubernatorial nomination in an open Senate seat than run for the job in 2024, when no one believes Feinstein will run again. . the the Chronicle notes that the Senate can expel members via a two-thirds vote, although this process was used to get rid of only 15 senators, “one for treason and 14 for supporting the Confederacy during the Civil War”. Feinstein’s alleged hesitation, even if it has become quite serious, is hardly a serious threat to national security, so deportation seems unlikely. The idea is to shame him into resigning voluntarily.
The “She’s losing her mind” speech has been going on for a while. Feinstein defended herself in a March 28 statement to the the Chroniclein which she referenced her husband’s recent illness and death – the kind of events that would affect anyone, regardless of age. “The past year has been extremely painful and distracting for me, traveling back and forth to visit my dying husband who passed away just weeks ago,” she said. “But there’s no doubt that I’m still serving the people of California, and I’ll put my record up against anyone.”
During a call with the Chronicle editorial board leaders after the article was published, Feinstein again defended his professional performance. She said no one had directly raised those concerns with her and that she planned to serve out the remainder of her term.
Thank goodness I still don’t live in Washington, so I’m not aware of any gossip that might clarify the extent of the disabilities plaguing the very former California senator. But my gut reaction is to defend her right to end her career on her own terms as long as she still shows up for work. As the the Chronicle piece admits, its highly experienced staff is capable of doing most of the analytical and voter service work expected of it. She has already relinquished her chairmanship of the Judiciary Committee. Nowadays, action in the Senate mostly involves non-controversial or party-line votes and performative debates.
But here’s the real catch: In 2018, during Feinstein’s last re-election campaign, his age was a major issue. I personally downvoted her twice because I thought it was time for her to hang up. She had a perfectly capable Democratic opponent in state Senate Majority Leader Kevin de León, who won the endorsement of the state Democratic Party. De León had the advantage of youth and party support, and he was a particular favorite of progressive activists who had come to dislike Feinstein for ideological reasons. Yet in the general election (which under California’s first-two system included the two leading Democrats), the 85-year-old incumbent won more than 900,000 votes, even though de León won 59% of the vote. republicans. Voters had every chance to remove Feinstein. They did not do it.
The bizarre coalition opposing Feinstein in 2018 offers a good clue to widespread calls in California and Washington for her to go. She has few fans these days. Republicans do not support her for several reasons but mainly lament her long identification with the cause of gun control. The Democratic left might hate her even more for her alleged chronic centrism and her anachronistic adherence to bipartisanship.
It is interesting that the the Chronicle the article features a photo of Feinstein kissing Lindsey Graham at the end of the 2020 Judiciary Committee hearings into Amy Coney Barrett’s Supreme Court nomination. It was a moment infamous for its progressive critics. One of my New York his colleagues commented that the hug had caused “a blood red indignation that ran down my face”. Admittedly, that was a very bad look for any Democrat at that time. But was this a sign of mental decline? It’s not clear at all.
The famous hug.
Photo: Samuel Corum/Getty Images
Look, I also can’t stand the idea of affectionate personal contact with Graham, even though, like the senator from South Carolina, I come from a part of the country where you can hug someone with hate (bless his heart!). But their embrace doesn’t quite meet the bar of betrayal behavior that has justified deportations in the past. If there is any evidence that Feinstein’s condition makes her a very real danger to herself or others, let people know. But if not, let her leave in 20 months or sooner if she wants. Maybe some of fake concerns directed at Feinstein should be redirected to Iowa Senator Chuck Grassley, who is less than three months younger than her and is running for a eighth six-year term as we speak.
In times of longer service life, it is no longer easy to distinguish between old and too old. In 2024, there is a good chance that we will have a presidential contest between an 81-year-old incumbent and a 78-year-old rival, and the winner will once again have access to the nuclear codes. Nobody gives Feinstein the nuclear codes. Yes, like the the Chronicle note, she is on course to become president pro tempore of the Senate if Democrats retain control of the chamber. This would place her third in the order of presidential succession, behind the vice president and the speaker of the House. But in 232 years, no one but a vice president has ascended to the presidency through the line of succession. And if the republic could survive Strom Thurmond’s 12 years as interim president, ending at the age of 98, Feinstein’s few years in office are hardly alarming.
We can all complain about having a gerontocracy (I’ve done it myself) and watching an old pol slip and fall or having a senior moment on the mic, like kids giggling at Uncle Bobby falling asleep at the Thanksgiving table. But personally, I have known American senators who were young and vigorous and dumb as a post and had the attention span of a gnat. Unless there is clear and attributed evidence of misconduct or dangerous behavior, we should not act as if senior citizens are spoiling an elevated senatorial atmosphere of sparkling repartee and noble service. So let’s leave the forced retirements to the voters and let the old go to the nursing home when they’re ready.