After an extended absence from Capitol Hill, Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) returned to the Senate last week, appearing weary and visibly confused during a perplexing interaction with reporters. Yet, despite her evident frailty, her Democratic colleagues welcomed her return, keen to secure their narrow majority in crucial votes.
Feinstein, 89, had reportedly been recuperating from a severe case of shingles, resulting in an absence of almost three months. However, during a recent press interaction, the senator appeared to have no recollection of her absence, adamantly stating, “I haven’t been gone. I’ve been working.”
"I haven’t been gone," Diane Feinstein said. "You should … I haven’t been gone. I’ve been working."
"You’ve been working from home is what you’re saying?" the reporter responded.
"No, I’ve been here. I’ve been voting. Please, either know or don’t know," Feinstein said back…… pic.twitter.com/VV1aOzOoFT
— 𝔹𝕦𝕕… (@bud_cann) May 17, 2023
As she was wheeled around the Senate in her chair, responding to reporters, Feinstein seemed to be in denial about her physical state, stating that she felt “fine” despite an admitted “problem with the leg.” Yet, the nature of this leg issue, she claimed, was “nothing that’s anyone’s concern but mine.”
Feinstein’s apparent unawareness of her absence raises concern about her cognitive abilities. This isn’t the first time such concerns have been raised. In 2020, the New Yorker reported allegations that Feinstein often forgot she had been briefed on a topic, accusing her staff of neglecting to do so.
More recently, an unnamed Californian member of Congress told the San Francisco Chronicle in 2022, “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.”
Despite this, Feinstein seems to believe she’s fully functioning in her role. When asked about her work during her absence, she dismissed the idea of working from home, asserting she had been physically present in the Senate, saying, “No, I’ve been here. I’ve been voting.”
Such statements are disquieting, not merely due to Feinstein’s apparent memory lapses but also because of the potential implications for her ability to fulfill her duties effectively. Even among her party ranks, calls for her resignation have grown louder. Last month, Rep. Ro Khanna (D-CA) demanded Feinstein step down, arguing the country should take precedence over personal loyalty. He was seconded by Rep. Dean Phillips (D-MN), who labeled remaining quiet on the issue a “dereliction of duty.”
Despite these concerns, Feinstein continues to serve in the Senate, seemingly unaware of her health issues and their impact on her role. Her recent statement indicated that she’s “still experiencing temporary side effects from the virus including vision and balance impairments,” but made no mention of any cognitive decline.