4 senators say 88-year-old Sen. Dianne Feinstein's memory is 'rapidly deteriorating': report

4 senators say 88-year-old Sen. Dianne Feinstein's memory is 'rapidly deteriorating': report
Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif.Joe Raedle/Pool via AP
  • Four senators told the San Francisco Chronicle they're worried about Sen. Feinstein's memory.
  • At a memorial service in June, Feinstein spoke of the dead person in present tense.

There are new claims that the oldest sitting member of the US Senate isn't mentally fit for her demanding job.

One unnamed member of Congress said Sen. Dianne Feinstein's mental acuity raised such concern for them that they considered staging "some kind of intervention" to get the 88-year-old California Democrat to retire, the San Francisco Chronicle reported Thursday.

Four US senators, three of them Democrats, told the Chronicle they'd seen Feinstein's memory "rapidly deteriorating" to the point where they worried it interfered with her ability to do her job without significant help from her staff. Three former Feinstein staffers and a Democratic California House member also spoke with the Chronicle on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitive nature of the topic, according to the report.

"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," one staffer working for a California Democrat told the Chronicle.

The lawmaker who considered staging an intervention said they thought about doing so because they had to reintroduce themself to Feinstein multiple times during a single conversation that lasted several hours. Two of the senators who spoke with the Chronicle said Feinstein had trouble recalling their names in front of them, leaving them with a sense that she knew who they are but couldn't remember their names.


"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 who considered the intervention 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 lawmaker added: "We've got an 'Emperor's New Clothes' problem here."

Feinstein has seen increasing numbers of staff departures every year since 2017, the Chronicle reported.

Other Democratic lawmakers, such as Sen. Tim Kaine of Virginia and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, defended Feinstein's cognitive capabilities to the Chronicle.

Pelosi, who represents San Francisco, called Feinstein "a workhorse for the people of California." She added that it was "unconscionable that, just weeks after losing her beloved husband of more than four decades and after decades of outstanding leadership to our City and State, she is being subjected to these ridiculous attacks that are beneath the dignity in which she has led and the esteem in which she is held."


Should Democrats retain their Senate majority in the 2022 midterm elections, Feinstein would replace the retiring Sen. Patrick Leahy of Vermont as third in succession for the presidency as the Senate's president pro tempore.

Feinstein defended her ability to serve in a written statement to the Chronicle on March 28.

"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," the senator said. "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."

The senator released an additional statement on Thursday afternoon.

"While I have focused for much of the past year on my husband's health and ultimate passing, I have remained committed to achieving results and I'd put my record up against anyone's," Feinstein said in the statement. "In the past few months, I successfully led the reauthorization of the bipartisan Violence Against Women Act, secured more direct government funding for my state than any other Democratic senator other than the chairman of the Appropriations Committee and secured additional funding to retain federal firefighters to help California prepare for the upcoming wildfire season. The real question is whether I'm still an effective representative for 40 million Californians, and the record shows that I am."


There have been several other reports in recent years concerning Feinstein's mental acuity.

Politico reported in September 2020 that some Democrats were concerned with Feinstein's ability to run confirmation hearings for the Supreme Court nominee at the time, Amy Coney Barrett. The New Yorker reported in December 2020 that Feinstein appeared to be experiencing memory issues.

The senator has not held a town hall since 2017. She has also drastically reduced her interactions with the public outside committee appearances, and avoids extended sit-down interviews, the Chronicle reported.

A former Feinstein staffer said the senator still insisted on signing off on any communication released by her office but began experiencing a great degree of trouble remembering what the staff was telling her about key legislation and committee investigations.

"It's really hard to have a micromanager who is not fully remembering everything that we've talked about," the former aide told the Chronicle. "My biggest concern is that it's a real disservice to the people of California."


A flashpoint incident occurred in June, when Feinstein spoke at the memorial service for the former commissioner of the San Francisco Port, Anne Halsted, whom the senator had known for several decades. Feinstein made two sets of remarks, according to the Chronicle.

The first time up, she made generic comments about the city of San Francisco and incorrectly gave Pelosi a shoutout as "the Democratic leader in the United States Senate." She later corrected herself by joking that she "promoted" Pelosi to the Senate, but Feinstein did not mention Halsted once in the first speech.

Feinstein went back up to talk about Halsted but spoke of her in the present tense.

"It was quite disconcerting," an attendee who has known Feinstein for decades told the Chronicle. "It's clear that she's really over the line."