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Chuck Schumer has had ‘painful conversations’ with Dianne Feinstein, 87, about ‘cognitive decline’

Chuck Schumer had several ‘painful’ conversations with Dianne Feinstein, the oldest serving senator, about stepping aside during the Supreme Court confirmation hearings but she ‘seemed to forget’ about their talks.

Several progressive groups publicly – and Democrats on Capitol Hill privately – have expressed concern about Feinstein’s cognitive abilities over the past year.

But the questions came to ahead in October when Feinstein, 87, led Democrats during Amy Coney Barrett‘s confirmation hearings to the Supreme Court. 

Schumer, the Senate Democratic leader, spoke with her about moving aside on her own terms, The New Yorker reported, in an effort to keep her dignity intact.

But Feinstein was surprised and upset by his overtures.   

‘She wasn’t really all that aware of the extent to which she’d been compromised,’ a Senate source told the magazine. ‘It was hurtful and distressing to have it pointed out.’ 

But Feinstein, who had been displaying short term memory problems, seemed to forget about her conversations with Schumer, so he had to have them with her again.

‘It was like Groundhog Day, but with the pain fresh each time,’ the person said. 

Chuck Schumer had several ‘painful’ conversations with Senator Dianne Feinstein about stepping down from leading Dems on Senate Judiciary panel

Several progressive groups publicly - and Democrats on Capitol Hill privately - have expressed concern about Senator Dianne Feinstein's cognitive abilities

Several progressive groups publicly – and Democrats on Capitol Hill privately – have expressed concern about Senator Dianne Feinstein’s cognitive abilities

Schumer was so worried he installed a trusted aide on the Judiciary Committee staff to ensure the hearing didn’t go off the rails and to keep an eye on Feinstein.

A former Feinstein aide defended the senator, saying that even if her faculties are diminished, ‘she’s still smarter and quicker than at least a third of the other members.’ 

But other aides – while speaking respectfully of Feinstein’s career and her accomplishments – told the magazine her short-term memory is so poor that she often forgets she has been briefed on a topic and then criticizes staff for not doing their jobs.  

‘The staff is in such a bad position,’ a former Senate aide said. ‘They have to defend her and make her seem normal.’ 

Feinstein announced last month she would step down as ranking Democrat on the Senate Judiciary Committee but will remain a member of the panel. 

The Senate, where power is accumulated with seniority, is known for having a high average age range: 61.8 years this year, among the oldest in U.S. history. 

Barrett was confirmed to the Supreme Court, as expected, but Feinstein caused another round of outrage among Democratic groups when she hugged Judiciary Committee Chairman Lindsey Graham after the hearing wrapped, congratulating him for ‘one of the best set of hearings that I’ve participated in.’

In the wake of the hug, the calls for her to step down as top Democrat on the panel grew louder.

In the aftermath, Graham defended Feinstein as a ‘wonderful person’ and criticized progressives for targeting her.

‘She dared hug me and look what’s happening to her,’ he said. 

He also defended her on Thursday, when the Senate Judiciary Committee was holding one of its last meetings of the session – and one of the last Feinstein sits in the ranking member chair.

 ‘Let’s just put it this way: Senator Feinstein is not the problem, she is the solution. Those who find fault with some of the gestures that Sen. Feinstein has made, you’re the problem not her,’ he said. 

Sen. Feinstein was criticized when she hugged Judiciary Committee Chairman Lindsey Graham after Judge Amy Coney Barrett's confirmation hearing to the Supreme Court

Sen. Feinstein was criticized when she hugged Judiciary Committee Chairman Lindsey Graham after Judge Amy Coney Barrett’s confirmation hearing to the Supreme Court

Aides have defended Sen. Feinstein, saying that even if her faculties are diminished, 'she's still smarter and quicker than at least a third of the other members'

Aides have defended Sen. Feinstein, saying that even if her faculties are diminished, ‘she’s still smarter and quicker than at least a third of the other members’

Schumer and California Democrats, meanwhile, were criticized for letting Feinstein run for re-election in 2018 although it’s unclear anyone could have changed her mind.

Feinstein rose to prominence in 1978 when she served on the San Francisco Board of Supervisors. She became its president in the wake of the assassinations of Mayor George Moscone and City Supervisor Harvey Milk – drawing national attention for her leadership during that crisis. 

In the Senate, she wrote the nation’s only ban on assault weapons, which expired in 2004. She has a reputation for being a traditionalist and consensus builder. She’s also been a leading force on immigration issues. 

She was recruited to the Senate Judiciary Committee by then-Senator Joe Biden, who wanted women on the panel in the wake of the Clarence Thomas Supreme Court hearings, when Democrats were criticized for their handling of Anita Hill’s accusations.

Like many women who have been trailblazers and have had to fight for every job they’ve held, Feinstein has shown reluctance to give up the power and position she has rightly earned. 

In the House, Speaker Nancy Pelosi, 80, holds an iron grip on her position leading the Democrats. And Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg also was said not to want to relinquish her seat during the Obama administration just because a Democrat was in power to appoint her replacement.

But neither women has had their cognitive abilities questioned. Pelosi spars with President Donald Trump and Republicans on a daily basis and Ginsburg’s dissents were quoted at length by progressives.

Social media and the internet have added to the public pressure, however. With hearings live streamed and Twitter a tweeting, the glare of the spotlight shines brighter on those in power.

It’s not just women. 

President Trump has had to defend his cognitive abilities – calling himself a ‘very stable genius’ – and President-elect Joe Biden has faced similar questions.

Male senators who stayed past their prime also had their mental prowess questioned. 

That includes the late and legendary Senators Strom Thurmond of South Carolina and Robert Byrd of West Virginia. 

‘For his last ten years, Strom Thurmond didn’t know if he was on foot or on horseback,’ a former Senate aide told The New Yorker

Feinstein’s term ends in 2024 when she will be 91. If she should step down before then, California Governor Gavin Newsom, a Democrat, would appoint her replacement. He is currently mulling who to appoint to Senator Kamala Harris’ seat when she takes the oath of office as vice president.

Meanwhile, if Republicans keep control of the Senate next year, Chuck Grassley is in line to be chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee. He’s 87 and has indicated he’ll seek re-election in 2022.  


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