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Report: Feinstein last year expressed confusion over Kamala Harris presiding over Senate as VP

By Sarah May on
 May 30, 2023

Speculation about California Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein's fitness for office has continued to swirl following her return to D.C. after an extended illness-related absence, but according to recent reporting from the New York Times, her confusion and disorientation on the chamber floor was evident long before.

The outlet recently published a piece detailing the precarious situation that prevails within Feinstein's office these days as staffers attempt to aid the lawmaker in her duties, referencing a particularly troublesome incident last year in which she was perplexed by the role being played by Vice President Kamala Harris casting a tie-breaking vote.

“What is She Doing Here?”

Though there have been persistent rumors about the cognitive struggles experienced by Feinstein, now 89, the Times outlined a seemingly telling anecdote that reportedly occurred last year.

The report recounted the manner in which Feinstein was noticeably baffled by Harris' presence in the upper chamber on one of the multiple occasions in which the vice president was required to bring an end to a voting deadlock.

Quoting a source who claimed to have witnessed the situation, the Times reported that Feinstein's reaction upon seeing Harris was, “What is she doing here?”

The scenario is one of many that have reportedly led one source close the senator to describe her current condition as “frightening.”

Details of Health Challenges Emerge

Feinstein's recent absence from the Senate was the result of a difficult bout with shingles, which kept her in California for approximately three months.

However, it has recently emerged that she also experienced multiple complications stemming from her initial diagnosis, and they included things such as encephalitis and Ramsay Hunt syndrome, which is known for its ability to produce hearing loss, droopy facial muscles, language difficulties, and more, as ABC News noted.

In addition to those significant physical challenges, which have necessitated the senator's use of a wheelchair around the U.S. Capitol, Feinstein has reportedly also struggled with confusion and memory problems, recently telling a group of reporters that she had not been absent from Washington over the past few months, asserting, “No, I've been here. I've been voting,” according to The Hill.

Though Feinstein has already announced that she will not pursue reelection in 2024, she also appears determined to serve out the remainder of her current term, critics be damned.

Californians Skeptical

Despite Feinstein's preferences on the topic, however, it appears that sufficient details of her reported decline have filtered down to the electorate in California, at least according to a recent UC. Berkley Institute of Governmental Studies Poll, the results of which were described by Politico.

According to the survey, approximately two-thirds of California respondents said that Feinstein simply no longer possesses the sort of fitness service in the U.S. Senate demands.

Politico noted that it was not just Democrats who expressed the aforementioned sentiments, with only 20% of all respondents evincing a belief that Feinstein is fully able to continue in her current role.

On the question of whether Feinstein should immediately step down from the job, 52% of Golden State voters answered in the affirmative, though whether those results will have any bearing on the senator's decision-making process remains unclear.

Democrats Divided

A split has emerged within the Democratic Party as to whether Feinstein should call it a career, with Rep. Ro Khanna (CA-17) among the most outspoken of those in favor of her retirement.

Khanna said last month, “It has become painfully obvious to many of us in California that she is no longer able to fulfill her duties,” and his sentiments were echoed by Rep. Dean Phillips (MN-03), who added, as Fox News noted, “I believe it is a dereliction of duty to remain in the Senate and a dereliction of duty for those who agree to remain quiet.”

Former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (CA-11), however, has signaled her support for Feinstein's continued service in the upper chamber, something many believes stems from her assumption that if she were to retire early, Gov. Gavin Newsom could well appoint Rep. Barbara Lee (D-12) to fill the vacancy, something she feels could harm the 2024 electoral chances of her chosen 2024 candidate for the Senate seat, Rep. Adam Schiff (CA-30).

Regardless of the rumors, gossip, and speculation about Feinstein's future, biographer Jerry Roberts has suggested, according to the Associated Press, that the only thing that truly matters to the outcome of this controversy is the senator's own assessment of the situation, saying that she -- for better or worse -- has “a belief in herself to the point of stubbornness, where nobody is going to tell her what she can or cannot do.”