Feinstein Isn’t Fine — She Should Retire


Sen. Feinstein should do the responsible thing for her constituents and retire. (Courtesy of Twitter)

Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif) has been an invaluable Californian asset to the Senate since her election in 1992. She led the effort to improve fuel efficiency in the state of California, was vocal in the campaign to legalize gay marriage, championed preservation efforts in key areas of the U.S., helped create the national AMBER alert and has been working to improve water infrastructure in California. Among her greatest achievements was the 1994 federal Assault Weapons ban and the 2014 report reviewing the CIA’s post-9/11 detention and interrogation methods, which led to legislation banning particularly cruel tactics. She became the top Democrat in the Senate Judiciary Committee in 2017, and the first woman to do so. This is just the short list of achievements by Sen. Feinstein. But unfortunately, a public servant needs to be able to serve the public — Feinstein can no longer do that. 

I am in no way dismissing Feinstein’s monumental achievements, but I felt this same way when Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg did not relinquish her position during the Obama administration, thereby denying any possibility that her role be fulfilled by a nominee of similar ideology. I was outspoken when looking at my home state’s abysmally old Senate, filled with men in their late 70s and 80s who have run uncontested their entire careers and whose outdated perspectives throttle progress in the state. If it were up to me, we would have term limits and mandatory retirements — just as any respectable law firm will turn its 65+ lawyers out to pasture. No one is saying these people are unable to fulfill their position because of their age, but when someone is unable to show up and contribute, it is time for them to step away. We would not let a neurosurgeon in their 90s experiencing cognitive degeneration keep operating for the safety of their patients, and we should not be making exceptions or covering for when a politician is no longer able to serve the community. 

We cannot hold a U.S. Senator to a different standard than everyone else. It is incredibly selfish on the part of a public servant to cling to power despite not being well enough to even cast a vote, especially when their absence directly harms the public. Feinstein has been on medical leave since February, and, since March 7, she has missed 58 Senate votes. This is unacceptable, but Feinstein isn’t alone. Rep. Nancy Pelosi has stated that she believes people are targeting Sen. Feinstein and, “I’ve never seen them go after a man who was sick in the Senate in that way.” I know that we are gnashing our teeth to bash a woman, but let’s not forget about Sen. Chuck Grassley or Sen. Mitch McConnell. Grassley is only three months younger than Feinstein and no one seems to be talking about him (or his hip surgery back in January), or how he is expected to be in office until 2029, which will land the senator in his mid-90s. McConnell suffered a concussion not two months ago, and no one is calling for him to resign or questioning his capacities. PBS reporter Lisa Desjardins said she “can count on both hands — I need both hands to say how many older male senators I have spoken to who have been confused, who haven’t understood me.” It would be incredibly reckless to ignore the rampant sexism women in politics experience, particularly for their age and appearance. But, on a wider scale, it is also wholly unacceptable that the average age of a Senator is 64, when the U.S. average age is 38. 

Now let’s talk about logistics. It is not only selfish from the public service perspective for Feinstein to refuse to step down, but it is also politically reckless. Senate Democrats hold a majority of one. Democrats also hold a majority of one in the Senate Judiciary Committee. Without Feinstein, the committee is at a tie and cannot pass judicial nominees. Such a holdup prevents Democrats from making any progress in courts across the country, leaving positions vacant or filled with people who actively oppose the will of the President and majority of the population. A single person should not be allowed to freeze the entire system, but she is. Even with her request to be replaced, Republicans have to agree on the replacement, which won’t happen. At this point, Feinstein is acting against her own party and given her Republican colleagues a golden opportunity to unofficially filibuster. Even close allies are calling for her resignation. Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) said recently, “if she can’t come back month after month after month, with this close Senate, that’s not just going to hurt California. It’s going to be an issue for the country.” Klobuchar says it perfectly. Politics is a demanding job and it is a simple fact that age comes with a slew of health issues that compromise anyone’s ability to fulfill tasks. Compromising your party’s agenda and the functionality of the country’s government is unacceptable. 

There is another angle I would like to quickly touch on — being able-bodied does not inherently mean being good at the job, and at the same time, being disabled does not mean being bad at the job. Politicians, like anyone else, deserve the right to recover. Sen. John Fetterman, following his stroke earlier this year, has had his needs accommodated so that he can do his job. Procedures should be in place to accommodate the needs of legislative members, recognizing that all people are capable of fulfilling the role of a civil servant. It is not, however, the same thing when it comes to age-related degeneration after a long and prolific career. 

The United States is in the middle of a judicial emergency. We are living in the midst of the most conservative judiciary in 90 years. If Sen. Feinstein really cares about her constituents, about her party or about the policies she has spent decades fighting for, she will step away. As for the age of our legislature and judiciary, maybe we should be trusting in young people who run for government positions and questioning the people older than the computers they don’t know how to operate. I don’t want to live in a gerontocracy anymore, and neither should you. 

Alexandra Rapp, FCRH ’24, is a history and international studies major from Hershey, Pa.