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Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) defended her ability to serve as the oldest member of the U.S. Senate on Thursday following a report from the San Francisco Chronicle that asserted her health may be in decline.
The Chronicle report anonymously quoted four senators, including three fellow Democrats, along with a House Democrat and three people who formerly worked in Feinstein’s office. The sources agreed that the senator, age 88, could no longer entirely fulfill her job duties as her memory was “rapidly deteriorating,” according to the story.
Her term is up in January 2025, at which point she will be 91.
In a statement issued late Thursday, Feinstein said, “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 previously said she has no intention to retire early.
Feinstein’s health has occasionally come into question in recent years; in November 2020, for example, she repeated a question for Twitter executive Jack Dorsey in a public hearing word for word without seemingly realizing it. The New Yorker reported at the time that Feinstein’s short-term memory had “grown so poor that she often forgets she has been briefed on a topic, accusing her staff of failing to do so just after they have.” Feinstein even figured into the California gubernatorial recall election last fall, as the prospect loomed that a Republican governor could end up replacing her were she to retire early.
The Chronicle reported this week that everyone who expressed concerns about her did so with a great amount of respect for her long career, which included serving as San Francisco’s first female mayor, but they observed Feinstein’s memory to be failing. She sometimes did not appear to recognize colleagues, they told the paper.
Critics of the Chronicle story pointed to Feinstein’s gender, as certain elderly non-compos-mentis male senators had not been subject to the same level of scrutiny.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, 82, issued a strongly worded defense to the Chronicle about her fellow Californian, calling Feinstein “a workhorse” and the questions about her health “ridiculous.”
The accusations were “unconscionable,” Pelosi said, given how Feinstein’s husband, the financier Richard Blum, died several weeks ago in late February.
“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 her Thursday statement.
She went on to point to her work to reauthorize the Violence Against Women Act and secure federal funding for California firefighters, among other accomplishments.
“The real question is whether I’m still an effective representative for 40 million Californians, and the record shows that I am,” her statement read.