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More than half of California voters say Dianne Feinstein should resign from Senate

By Sarah May on
 May 28, 2023

The recent return of Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) to senatorial duties after an extended illness has provoked hearty debate about whether the 89-year-old lawmaker ought to step down, and according to a recent poll, Californians in large numbers have already answered that question in the affirmative, as Politico reports.

That damning verdict came this week via the UC Berkley Institute of Governmental Studies Poll, which was co-sponsored by the Los Angeles Times, and it will likely spark additional conversation about Feinstein's immediate future.

Health Woes, Age Plague Senator

Feinstein, as ABC News has noted, was diagnosed with shingles back in February, and her condition kept her away from Washington for a period of roughly three months.

The outlet also reported that sources close to the senator have sinced disclosed that she suffered a series of complications during her recovery, including encephalitis and Ramsay Hunt syndrome – a condition known to produce droopy muscles in the face, language processing difficulties, hearing loss, and more.

Increasingly frail in appearance, Feinstein has resorted to the use of a wheelchair to navigate her way around the U.S. Capitol, and she has also struggled with memory issues and apparent confusion, as was evident in a recent exchange with reporters.

When asked by journalists about her extended absence from D.C., Feinstein seemed not to recall that she had ever been away, raising eyebrows by saying, as The Hill reported, “No, I've been here. I've been voting.”

Poll: Feinstein Unfit

According to the aforementioned poll, a staggering number equating to roughly two-thirds of all California respondents indicated their belief that Feinstein no longer possesses the fitness required to serve in the Senate.

Poll participants spanned the political spectrum, according to Politico, and only 20% of respondents suggested that the senator has retained the ability to continue in her legislative role.

When asked whether now is the time for Feinstein to resign her seat, 52% of Golden State respondents said yes, though most were unsure exactly whom they would like to take her place.

Though Feinstein has already announced that she does not plan to seek reelection in 2024, she has also evinced her intention to complete her current term. However, if she were to retire early, Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom would have the task of naming an interim replacement.

Not Just Voters

As the recent poll suggests, California voters are far from convinced of the wisdom of Feinstein's continued service in the Senate, but that sentiment is also shared by a number of lawmakers – even some within her own party, as ABC News further noted.

Democratic Rep. Ro Khanna (CA-17) has been outspoken when it comes to Feinstein's condition, saying last month, “It has become painfully obvious to many of us in California that she is no longer able to fulfill her duties."

"As someone from California, I felt an obligation to say what so many colleagues are saying in private," Khanna added.

Khanna's Democratic colleague, Rep. Dean Phillips (MN-03) concurred, saying, as Fox News noted, “Senator Feinstein is a remarkable American whose contributions to our country are immeasurable. But I believe it's now a dereliction of duty to remain in the Senate and a dereliction of duty for those who agree to remain quiet.”

Senate Seat in the Balance

According to Feinstein's biographer, Jerry Roberts, if the senator is determined to hold on to her seat despite mounting objections, it will likely be due to what he called “a belief in herself to the point of stubbornness, where nobody is going to tell her what she can or cannot do,” as the Associated Press reported.

“She has tremendous belief and confidence in her own strength and her own ability,” Roberts continued, though the harsh realities of aging and failing health may yet intervene.

Should Feinstein's seat become vacant ahead of the 2024 election, Newsom will face significant pressure to make good on a promise he made to appoint a Black female to take the reins, a vow he made after appointing a Latino male to replace Kamala Harris when she left the Senate to become vice president.

Having hinted that he would be more inclined to tap a placeholder/caretaker candidate who would not seek a full term in 2024, Newsom's rumored prospect list is said to include luminaries such as media mogul Oprah Winfrey, according to the New York Post, but if Feinstein is as tenacious as her biographer says, the entire conversation could well be moot, irrespective of the electorate's preferences.