Sen. Dianne Feinstein Kicks Off Retirement Tour By Forgetting She Announced Her Retirement
Dianne Feinstein, the oldest sitting and longest serving member of the United States Senate, earlier this week ended up raining on her retirement parade — just as it was getting started.
Feinstein’s senate office on Feb. 14 issued a statement in which the California Democrat announced she would not run for re-election after her current term in Congress ends in about two years. Almost immediately, fellow lawmakers, political pundits and members of the media began posting accolades in praise of Feinstein’s political career, which started in the late 1960s..
Later in the day, however, when reporters pressed her for added details about her impending retirement, Feinstein, 89, said, “Well, I haven’t made that decision. I haven’t released anything.”
Then one of her staffers interjected and told Feinstein her team had, in fact, issued a press release with her retirement statement.
“You put out the statement?” she asked, adding, “I should’ve known they put it out…It is what it is.” . Feinstein’s apparent confusion led more than a few commentators and reporters in the Golden State to wonder if they could trust reports of her decision to leave the Senate.
The incident seemed to confirm reports in recent years about Feinstein’s diminishing mental acuity, specifically her growing inability to focus on or remember key facts.
In the press release that announced her retirement, the five-term Senator said she would leave the panel at the end of 2024, creating an open primary battle to fill her seat.
“I am announcing today I will not run for reelection in 2024 but intend to accomplish as much for California as I can through the end of next year when my term ends,” Feinstein’s statement read. “I campaigned in 2018 on several priorities for California and the nation: preventing and combating wildfires, mitigating the effects of record-setting drought, responding to the homelessness crisis, and ensuring all Americans have access to affordable, high-quality health care. Congress has enacted legislation on all of these topics over the past several years, but more needs to be done — and I will continue these efforts.”
Feinstein is regarded as the first woman elected to the Senate from California, although she won her seat during the same election former fellow Democrat Barbara Boxer was elected to her Senate post. Feinstein’s race was a special election to fill the remaining term of Pete Wilson, who left the Senate to become California’s governor. As such, Feinstein assumed her place on the Senate as soon as all the votes for her contest had been counted — as compared to Boxer, who won a regular election and had to wait until Congress convened the following January to officially join the Senate.
Feinstein claims the distinction of having won the most votes in any single Senate election in history, an estimated 7.8 million votes in 2012. She is also the longest-serving woman in Senate history and chaired two high-profile Senate committees, Intelligence and Rules. She authored legislation that banned assault weapons in 1994.
Prior to being elected to Congress, Feinstein served as a San Francisco Supervisor from 1969 until 1978, when the city’s previous Mayor George Mascone and fellow city Supervisor Harvey Milk were assassinated and she, as acting president of the Board of Supervisors, was immediately named mayor.
It’s been long anticipated Feinstein would depart at the end of her current term, since she lightened her workload and responsibilities in recent years.
She stepped aside as the leading Democrat on the Senate Judiciary Committee in late 2020, a move that followed intense criticism over her handling of the confirmations of Justice Brett Kavanaugh and Justice Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court.
Feinstein also declined to take on the position of Senate president pro tempore, usually reserved for the most senior member of the party in power, and assign the task to Patty Murray (D-Wash.), the second-longest tenured Senate Democrat, who assumed the role after former Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) retired last year.
According to her most recent FEC filing, Feinstein raised only $600 for her re-election in the final three months of 2022 and has only $10,000 in the bank.
Despite any further clarity about Feinstein’s future plans, three candidates have already come to the fore in their bids for the elder Senator’s seat: U.S. Representative Katie Porter, who flipped a previously Republican district in Orange County in 2018, Representative Adam B. Schiff, the manager of President Donald J. Trump’s first impeachment trial, who represents an eastern swath of the Los Angeles region, and Representative Barbara Lee, a steadfast progressive from Oakland who was the sole lawmaker in Congress to vote against invading Afghanistan. Lee just filed for the race on Thursday.
Feinstein on Tuesday told reporters she would make an endorsement “probably in a couple of months.”