A former Dianne Feinstein staffer insisted that keeping the 'diminished' 88-year-old in office is 'better than a junior California senator'
- Sen. Dianne Feinstein, the oldest sitting senator, sat down for an interview with The Cut.
- In the interview, Feinstein sometimes forgot questions and depended on an aide to help her recall details.
In an interview published Monday in The Cut, Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California sometimes forgot questions posed to her and depended heavily on an aide to help her recall key details.
But one former staffer who spoke anonymously to the outlet insisted that despite the 88-year-old senator's apparent shortcomings, she's still able to get more done than a younger, more recently-elected senator could.
"Is a diminished Senator Feinstein better than a junior California senator?" the staffer asked. "I would argue, emphatically, yes."
Part of that notion is based on her seniority: Feinstein is the oldest member of the chamber, and once Democratic Sen. Pat Leahy of Vermont officially retires in January 2023, she will become longest-serving Democratic senator currently in office.
"If we lost her seniority … every other state benefits from California not having seniority, because our appropriations are so much larger," Ken Millman, her 2018 campaign manager, told The Cut.
Feinstein is known to be heavily reliant on staff to perform her duties as senator, constantly flanked by a staffer as she walks to votes and hearings on Capitol Hill. In the phone interview with columnist Rebecca Traister, Feinstein sometimes trailed off and relied on communications director Tom Mentzer for help.
"Everything has become more partisan than it was when I came to the Senate," said Feinstein. "When I came to the Senate, Bob Dole was the leader, and he stood up and said … What was it? Tom, help me, what was the quote?"
She also appeared to forget the year that the 1994 assault weapons ban — one of her key legislative accomplishments — was enacted.
"In a way, the weapon issue was a good one because we were able to pass the first bill," she said. "When was it, Tom?"
Insider asked Democratic Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer in April whether he still had confidence in Feinstein's ability to serve in the upper chamber, given a recent report from the San Francisco Chronicle raising fresh questions about her cognitive decline.
He conspicuously declined to answer the question, and his office declined to respond to requests for comment seeking clarification.
"I've had a good number of discussions with Senator Feinstein, but I'm keeping them to myself," he said at his weekly press conference.
—CSPAN (@cspan) April 26, 2022
Four sitting senators told the Chronicle that they'd observed the rapid deterioration of Feinstein's cognitive abilities, and a Democratic House member from California said they had reintroduce themselves to Feinstein multiple times during a single, hours-long conversation earlier this year.
"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.
Feinstein, for her part, said she was "rather puzzled" by reports of her unfitness to serve.
"I meet regularly with leaders," she told the Chronicle's editorial board. "I'm not isolated. I see people. My attendance is good. I put in the hours. We represent a huge state. And so I'm rather puzzled by all of this."
But Schumer reportedly had to urge Feinstein two separate times to step down from her post as the lead Democrat on the Senate Judiciary Committee following outcry over her handling of Supreme Court Justice Amy Coney Barrett's confirmation hearings.
The bulk of Feinstein's interview with The Cut focused on gun control, an issue close to Feinstein given her proximity to the assassination of San Francisco Board of Supervisors member Harvey Milk. She became the first female mayor of San Francisco after Milk and Mayor George Moscone were shot and killed by a fellow board member Dan White in 1978.
"Oh, we'll get it done, trust me," she said of the prospects of meaningful gun reform.
But Feinstein also seemed unable to grasp with the rigid partisan dynamics that now dictate debates about guns in Washington, even as she conceded that Republicans have become less willing to compromise than Democrats on a myriad of issues.
"Well, yes. I think that's not inaccurate. I think it's an accurate statement," she said. "What did you first say about Democrats moving?"
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