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Feinstein pushes back on lawmakers’ accounts that she is mentally unfit

The Washington Post logo The Washington Post 4/15/2022 Eugene Scott
Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) questions Supreme Court nominee Ketanji Brown Jackson during her Senate Judiciary Committee confirmation hearing, on Capitol Hill in Washington on March 22. (J. Scott Applewhite/AP) © J. Scott Applewhite/AP Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) questions Supreme Court nominee Ketanji Brown Jackson during her Senate Judiciary Committee confirmation hearing, on Capitol Hill in Washington on March 22. (J. Scott Applewhite/AP)

Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) is pushing back on lawmakers’ accounts that her memory has deteriorated and she is mentally unfit to serve, insisting that she remains a productive senator at the age of 88.

“The real question is whether I’m still an effective representative for 40 million Californians, and the record shows that I am,” she said in a statement Thursday.

Feinstein, who is the oldest U.S. senator, took the step of responding to a San Francisco Chronicle report that four Senate colleagues — three of them Democrats — and three of the lawmaker’s former staffers and a California Democrat in the House said her memory is rapidly deteriorating. Various individuals said the lawmaker’s staff does most of the work because of what they described as her cognitive decline.

The House Democrat told the Chronicle of a recent encounter with Feinstein that was so jarring that she no longer appeared to be the intellectual and political force that has won her praise from members on both sides of the aisle for years.

The individuals quoted in the Chronicle report spoke anonymously.

This Senate is the oldest in American history. Should we do anything about it?

Video: 2018: Feinstein thanks supporters after primary win (The Washington Post)

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In her statement, Feinstein said she spent much of her time over the past year caring for her late husband Richard C. Blum, who died in February at age 86 after battling cancer. But she said she has remained steadfast in representing her constituents despite the significant personal loss.

“I remain committed to do what I said I would when I was re-elected in 2018: fight for Californians, especially on the economy and the key issues for California of water and fire,” she wrote. “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 pointed to her leadership role in reauthorizing the Violence Against Women Act with bipartisan support, which President Biden signed into law in March. And she said she had gotten more direct government funding for her state than nearly every other Democratic senator.

Feinstein, who was elected in 1992, has served as San Francisco mayor and president of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors. Her current term ends in 2024. If she decides to retire early, Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom would appoint a successor.

Feinstein, as the top Democrat on the Senate Judiciary Committee, faced criticism in 2020 for her handling of the Supreme Court nomination of Justice Amy Coney Barrett. There was grumbling from many on the party’s left who wanted a stronger effort to block, or at least protest, President Donald Trump’s nominee to replace the late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

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Feinstein later relinquished the top Democratic seat on the Judiciary Committee, a post that commands significant attention and power in overseeing judicial nominations and other key issues.

At least four other senators serving with Feinstein are older than 80 — all of them men. But only one, Sen. Charles E. Grassley (R-Iowa), who also is 88 but a few months younger than Feinstein, is seeking reelection this year.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), who has worked with Feinstein in Washington for three decades, cited the lawmaker’s continued devotion to Californians amid discussions about her ability to serve.

“Senator Feinstein is a workhorse for the people of California and a respected leader among her colleagues in the Senate,” Pelosi said Thursday in a statement. “She is constantly traveling between California and the Capitol, working relentlessly to ensure Californians’ needs are met and voices are heard.”

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