(New York) Dianne Feinstein certainly wasn’t the first person to read a question she or one of her advisors wrote during a hearing in the US Senate. The problem is that the then 87-year-old Democratic senator from California asked the same question twice, with the same intonation, a few minutes apart. The witness she was talking to, then-Twitter head Jack Dorsey, had the delicacy to repeat his initial response as if nothing had happened.
But the interaction clip quickly ended up on a conservative site, along with a message that was descriptive and didactic: “Senator Feinstein asked the same question twice and didn’t notice. Time to retire!”
The episode is back in November 2020. And next month, Diane Feinstein will celebrate her 90th birthday. She would then become the first woman of no age to sit in the Senate since Democratic West Virginia Sen. Robert Byrd, who died in full office at the age of 92, in 2010.
But the dean of the US Senate is still not ready to retire, even if her health is causing more concern than it was two and a half years ago.
It’s a personal tragedy for one of the most admired politicians of her generation, a political problem for Democrats and a telling moment for the Senate.
Dianne Feinstein is dean of an institution with five octogenarians, including the four-month-younger Republican Iowa Sen. Chuck Grassley, and 29 septuagenarians, 11 of whom are at least 75, out of a total of 100.
None of them threatened the previous record of South Carolina Republican Senator Strom Thurmond, who was 100 years old when he resigned. In 2020, one of his former advisors told journalist Who The New Yorker Jane Mayer: “For the last ten years of his life Strom Thurmond did not know whether he was on foot or on horseback.”
Power and prestige
There are many reasons why elected senators stay there forever. Seniority is one. It provides many benefits, including access to the most prestigious or influential positions. Example: From 1989 to 2008, Senator Robert Byrd was able to funnel huge amounts of money into his small state thanks to his role as chairman of the Appropriations Committee, of which he was a member during his 51 years in the Senate.
The prestige of the senator’s position is another reason, as well as the moral and psychological comfort provided by a dedicated staff. The pressure of the parties, which do not want to defend the vacant seats, can also play a role.
Of course, the Senate isn’t the only place where octogenarians deal with politics these days, as Joe Biden’s White House can attest.
But the Senate is a special case. Dianne Feinstein adds her name to a long list of elected officials who have suffered a painful end to their careers there. Some of his female colleagues also see sexism in calls for his resignation that have been heard again in recent weeks.
“We have male members who are struggling in different ways, and I don’t hear anyone suggesting they retire,” Michigan Democratic Sen. Debbie Stabenow, 73, said in mid-April.
Sen. Stabenow made the remark while her fellow Californian was confined to her San Francisco residence due to shingles. Dianne Feinstein’s absence in Washington might not have caused such a stir if the senator had not been on the all-important Senate Judiciary Committee.
However, for nearly three months, Democrats were unable to confirm Joe Biden’s nominees for federal seats due to this absence. Hence the calls for the resignation of Feinstein, whose seat could be quickly filled by a person appointed by California’s Democratic Governor Gavin Newsom.
Leave with your head held high
On May 9, a frail Dianne Feinstein, her face half paralyzed from shingles, relieved the pressure somewhat by returning to Washington. But his condition did not reassure anyone. Online magazine reporter slate She first narrated conversations with the senator, in which the latter apparently did not remember that she was absent from Washington.
the The New York Times He followed this up with an article revealing that the chosen one was suffering from post-infective encephalitis, a rare and debilitating complication of shingles that had not been previously reported.
However, Dianne Feinstein insists that she will not step down until her current term ends on January 3, 2025. She could have walked out of the Senate with her head held high at the age of 85, at the end of her term. from his previous term. She will be the first woman elected mayor of San Francisco and made her mark in Washington by drafting the bill that banned assault rifles from 1994 to 2004 and leading a damning investigation into CIA torture under George W. Bush.
Instead of the retirement she deserves, Dianne Feinstein has dealt with the shocking jokes around her, one of which was previously revealed by The New York Times : “His relatives privately joke that, perhaps, when MI Feinstein will die, and you will begin to think about quitting. »
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