Throughout the spring season, Senator Dianne Feinstein faced relentless criticism due to her prolonged absence, which resulted in a lack of crucial votes for advancing judges within the Senate Judiciary Committee. This absence, coupled with concerns about her mental fitness for the job, prompted several Democratic lawmakers, including Representative Ro Khanna (D-CA), to demand her resignation.Feinstein’s return to the Senate in early May failed to quell doubts about her ability to fulfill her role, with Khanna reiterating his call for her resignation. This ongoing debate has brought to the forefront questions about the obligations of a senator to their constituents, the contingency plans in case of a sudden vacancy caused by her departure, and the challenges posed by a Senate with an average age of 65.
These inquiries have gained renewed relevance this week following Feinstein’s brief hospitalization after a reported “minor fall,” as stated by her office. Her spokesperson confirmed that all medical scans returned clear results, and she returned home promptly.
This hospital visit marks the latest incident in a series of health concerns, casting a brighter spotlight on Feinstein’s well-being and stirring uncertainties about her suitability to remain in her senatorial capacity. Prior to this, her absence from Congress due to a shingles diagnosis had already deprived Democrats of an important vote. Furthermore, the San Francisco Chronicle documented instances of memory lapses in Feinstein’s interactions with colleagues and staff, a matter that became evident in a concerning exchange with a Slate reporter in May.Determining the Democrats’ way forward, however, presents a complex and uncertain challenge. Influential figures, such as Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, might wield considerable influence in persuading her to step down from her role.According to George Washington University political scientist Sarah Binder, “Unless Senator Feinstein willingly decides to resign, the Senate’s primary formal recourse for removing her would involve a vote to expel her, requiring a two-thirds majority.” Binder highlights the importance of moral persuasion as an informal strategy.Should Feinstein choose to resign voluntarily, California Governor Gavin Newsom would select a replacement to fulfill her term until 2025. Newsom has already pledged to nominate a Black woman for the role, with Representative Barbara Lee (D-CA), who has declared her candidacy, emerging as a probable contender.
Observing the situation, it’s evident that Schumer, as Senate leader, wields significant influence to engage with Feinstein. However, a report from the New York Times in May indicated Feinstein’s determination to resume her Senate duties during conversations with the majority leader while recovering from shingles. A Schumer spokesperson did not provide an immediate response regarding potential steps ahead for the Democrats.”