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Senator Feinstein says she’ll continue to serve after report of memory issues

88-year-old US lawmaker was said to fail to recognize longtime colleagues and to repeat conversations

Sen. Dianne Feinstein speaks during a Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs and Senate Committee on Rules and Administration joint hearing on March 3, 2021, examining the January 6 attack on the US Capitol in Washington, DC.(Greg Nash/Pool Photo via AP)
Sen. Dianne Feinstein speaks during a Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs and Senate Committee on Rules and Administration joint hearing on March 3, 2021, examining the January 6 attack on the US Capitol in Washington, DC.(Greg Nash/Pool Photo via AP)

US Senator Dianne Feinstein has no plans to leave before the end of her term, a spokesman said Tuesday in response to questions over her ability to finish her current term.

The scrutiny comes after a report last month revealed that people close to the California lawmaker described episodes of her struggling to recognize colleagues and carry out her duties.

“It’s true the last year has been difficult caring for my dying husband and grieving over his passing, but I’ve remained committed to achieving results and I would put my record up against anyone’s,” Feinstein said in a statement to The New York Times. “If the question is whether I’m an effective senator for 40 million Californians, the record shows that I am.”

Feinstein’s current term extends until 2024, but the 88-year-old lawmaker has been under close scrutiny in the last year as to whether she is fit to complete the term. If she is unable to complete it, the governor of California would pick her replacement.

Feinstein’s husband, Richard Blum, died in February from cancer at the age of 86. Feinstein said his death made for an “extremely painful and distracting” year, in a statement for an April report on her memory issues in the San Francisco Chronicle, though she maintained that she was able to perform her duties as senator.

According to lawmakers and former staffers cited in the report, Feinstein’s memory was “rapidly deteriorating.” She was described as having difficulty recognizing longtime colleagues and recalling conversations and policy, and often repeated conversations.

Committee Chairman US. Sen. Chuck Grassley (L) and ranking member Sen. Dianne Feinstein (R) participate in a markup hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee September 13, 2020. (Alex Wong/Getty Images/AFP)

The report’s sources — who remained anonymous because of the sensitivity of the issue and their relationships to the senator — said that the episodes were not constant, and other lawmakers noted that they had not seen a decline in her performance.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and junior California Senator Alex Padilla disputed the claims and told the Chronicle that Feinstein was continuing to execute her responsibilities “well.”

Although Feinstein stepped down last year as chair of the Judiciary Committee, she may become third in line to the US presidency if Democrats maintain their majority in the Senate after November. Sen. Patrick Leahy of Vermont announced he will not seek reelection next year, which will leave Feinstein as the longest-serving senator. The majority party traditionally names the longest-serving senator as the president pro tempore of the chamber.

Feinstein’s memory has been a longstanding issue. Friends and former staffers claimed in a 2020 article in the New Yorker that her short-term memory had grown so poor that she could not effectively do her job.

Feinstein — who was born in San Francisco as the granddaughter of Jewish immigrants from Eastern Europe — is not the oldest senator to serve. That senator was Republican Strom Thurmond of South Carolina, who was 100 when he completed his final term in 2003.

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