The US Senate and Congress are one of the oldest in the world by average age with 11 Senators and 27 House representatives above 75 years of age. While many of them are expected to make way for younger ones when their terms end in either 2022 or 2024, Democratic senator from California, Dianne Feinstein, has filed for nomination to run for another term in 2024. At 87, she is the oldest Senator and if she wins her 2024 run, she would be 90, making her one of the oldest to win an election.
But with her age, many within her party have already begun asking questions about her ability to govern. The rumors are rife about her being diagnosed with Alzheimer's and Twitterati have pointed out her missteps and forgetful nature. Many believe her cognitive abilities have declined due to age or Alzheimer's. But Feinstein does not believe so.
"I don't feel my cognitive abilities have diminished. Do I forget something sometimes? Quite possibly. We do get things done and we do pass bills. You do get older, that's true. But I have been productive," she told the Los Angeles Times.
Does She Have Alzheimer's?
It was during the Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on November 17, 2020, that everyone had a glimpse of her declining cognitive function. At the hearing, Feinstein asked Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey if his company was doing enough to stop misinformation. She went on to ask him if Twitter labeling a tweet as disputed was sufficient to call it a lie, referring to President Donald Trump's post saying he won the election. Dorsey responded thoroughly.
Both questions were legitimate and everyone who uses Twitter would ask the same. So far, there seemed to be no problem with Feinstein's cognitive function. But after Dorsey's response, she asked the same question again, word by word without any hesitation.
While there had been some silly questions to tech CEOs including Google's Sunder Pichai, Facebook's Mark Zuckerberg and Tim Cook of Apple besides Dorsey in Congressional hearings, this was odd. What followed was a barrage of tweets asking her to quit. A few days later, she did but only from the Democratic party's senior position and continued to be a non-ranking member of the Senate Judiciary Committee.
Back in 2017, a report in Vox said a pharmacist filled out Alzheimer's medication for a member of Congress. Netizens are now assuming that it was her. But her aides told New Yorker that the reports were exaggerated, adding that "she is still smarter and quicker than at least a third of the other members." Her office also hasn't confirmed or said anything against the rumors.
Some Democrats Agree
However, not everyone shared her aides' views. During Amy Coney Barrett's nomination hearing, Democratic Minority Leader, Chuck Schumer, was worried that she would not manage it properly. Hence, he brought in Max Young, a former aide to be his "eyes and ears". By the time Barrett was confirmed, she was targeted by progressive groups, asking her to step down.
Schumer had confronted Feinstein on several occasions and asked her to step down with dignity. But the next time she met Schumer, she had already forgotten the conversation. "It was like Groundhog Day, but with the pain fresh each time. She wasn't really all that aware of the extent to which she'd been compromised. It was hurtful and distressing to have it pointed out," the aide said.
Other aides were even harsher. An aide said her condition left her staff in a bad position. "They have to defend her and make her seem normal," one said.
"It's been a disaster. Other members were constantly trying to go around her because, as chair, she didn't want to do anything, and she also didn't want them doing anything," another added.
However, despite filing nomination papers, it does not mean that she would run again. The nomination paper was for changing an address for the committee. Politicians usually do that to transfer unused funds. But Feinstein seeking another term cannot be ruled out either. However, she won't be alone either. Two male Republican senators — Chuck Grassley (Iowa) and Richard Shelby (Alabama) — are set to run for re-election. Another Republican, Jim Inhofe, 86, ran for reelection in November 2020 and won. By the time his term is over, he would be the oldest senator if Grassley and Shelby decide against seeking another term.