"Her memory is rapidly deteriorating": Colleagues raise fears about 88-year-old Dianne Feinstein

Senators and ex-staffers say she sometimes "does not seem to fully recognize even longtime colleagues"

By Alex Henderson

Published April 14, 2022 2:30PM (EDT)

Sen. Dianne Feinstein (Jonathan Ernst-Pool/Getty Images)
Sen. Dianne Feinstein (Jonathan Ernst-Pool/Getty Images)

This article originally appeared on AlterNet.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein has been a fixture in California politics, serving as mayor of San Francisco during the late 1970s and 1980s and as a U.S. senator since the early 1990s. Feinstein, now 88, has chaired the Senate Rules Committee and the Senate Intelligence Committee, and she has been a ranking member of the Senate Judiciary Committee. But some of her colleagues, according to San Francisco Chronicle reporters Tal Kopan and Joe Garofoli, now fear that the veteran senator has become mentally unfit for her job.

"When a California Democrat in Congress recently engaged in an extended conversation with Sen. Dianne Feinstein," Kopan and Garofoli explain, "they prepared for a rigorous policy discussion like those they'd had with her many times over the last 15 years. Instead, the lawmaker said, they had to reintroduce themselves to Feinstein multiple times during an interaction that lasted several hours."

The Chronicle reporters add, "Rather than delve into policy, Feinstein, 88, repeated the same small-talk questions, like asking the lawmaker what mattered to voters in their district, they said, with no apparent recognition the two had already had a similar conversation."

According to Kopan and Garofoli, that lawmaker — who spoke to the Chronicle on condition of anonymity — "began raising concerns with colleagues to see if some kind of intervention to persuade Feinstein to retire was possible."

That member of Congress told the Chronicle, "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. 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."

Kopan and Garofoli report that in recent interviews, "four U.S. senators, including three Democrats" and "three former Feinstein staffers" told the Chronicle that Feinstein's "memory is rapidly deteriorating."

"They said that the memory lapses do not appear to be constant and that some days, she is nearly as sharp as she used to be," according to Kopan and Garofoli. "During the March confirmation hearing for soon-to-be-Supreme Court Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson, Feinstein appeared composed as she read pertinent questions, though she repeated comments to Jackson about the judge's composure in the face of tough questioning. But some close to her said that on her most difficult days, she does not seem to fully recognize even longtime colleagues."

However, another veteran of California politics, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, told the Chronicle that she has not noticed any decline in Feinstein's memory.

Pelosi told the Chronicle, "Sen. Feinstein is a workhorse for the people of California and a respected leader among her colleagues in the Senate. She is constantly traveling between California and the Capitol, working relentlessly to ensure Californians' needs are met and voices are heard."


Alex Henderson

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