Already impaired by widely-reported mental decline, Senator Dianne Feinstein returned to the Senate two weeks ago after a nearly three-month absence as she battled shingles. Last week, in a Capitol Hill encounter with reporters, Feinstein appeared to be unaware that she'd been gone from the Senate, declaring, "No, I've been here. I've been voting."
Writing about the spectacle, we observed that a long-overdue Feinstein resignation "would go against the interests of her handlers who'd surely like to keep their Senate jobs as long as possible."
While that's certainly one reason to keep pushing a wheelchair-bound, mentally failing and physically frail Feinstein around Capitol Hill to push voting buttons, a more complex conspiracy has emerged: Rep. Adam Schiff wants her seat and desperately wants Feinstein to hang on through the 2024 election.
Why is that so crucial to him? If Feinstein resigns, California Gov. Gavin Newsom would appoint a senator to fill the seat until 2024. Newsom has already promised to appoint a black woman in that event, and one of Schiff's declared opponents is California Rep. Barbara Lee. If appointed, she'd enter the 2024 race with the power of incumbency.
The plot gets thicker: Nancy Pelosi has endorsed Schiff in the Senate race and -- upon her return to Washington -- Feinstein has been frequently accompanied by a mystery woman, whom Politico has now identified as Pelosi's eldest daughter, Nancy Corinne Prowda.
It seems Pelosi is using every resource at her disposal to keep Feinstein in office. Consistent with that, amid perfectly reasonable demands by Democrats for Feinstein to resign, Pelosi has been one of the 89-year-old senator's most vocal defenders. In April, she played the misogyny card, saying, "I’ve never seen them go after a man who was sick in the Senate in that way."
An unnamed "Pelosi family confidant" has essentially confirmed the scheme, telling Politico that “if DiFi resigns right now, there is an enormous probability that Barbara Lee gets appointed — thus, it makes it harder for Schiff...The political thinking is that if DiFi stays as long as possible, it helps Schiff as well.”
The confidant also said the relationship between Feinstein and Pelosi's daughter was "being kept under wraps and very, very closely held.” Well, not anymore...some family confidant that is.
Maybe it's a confidant with a conscience: For all of Democrats' railing about saving Our Democracy®, the propping up of Feinstein makes her chief of staff -- the obscure James Sauls -- a de facto, unelected shadow senator.
Or perhaps the confidant empathizes with Feinstein, as the scheme to keep her installed has crossed the line into elder abuse -- even if Feinstein herself is insisting she can keep going.
For the good of her health, her dignity, the Senate, the Democratic Party and our democracy, it’s past time now for Senator Feinstein’s family and caretakers to convene and immediately end this ghastly, degrading spectacle that borders on elder abuse.pic.twitter.com/d0ABJvbVX4— Fernand R. Amandi (@AmandiOnAir) May 18, 2023
On Thursday, The New York Times reported that Feinstein's shingles complications were more serious than her handlers had previously disclosed. In addition to vision and balance problems and facial paralysis, the virus also caused encephalitis -- swelling of Feinstein's brain that can cause enduring memory failures, confusion and mood disorders, among many other symptoms.
Even before her battle with shingles, Feinstein's mental decline had been chronicled by the most liberal newspapers. Last year, the Times and San Francisco Chronicle published insider accounts of Feinstein being unable to remember names, meetings and phone conversations. The Times described her as sometimes "walk[ing] around in a state of befuddlement."
Upon Feinstein's return to Washington this month, The Times described her as appearing "shockingly diminished" and offered this vignette:
"Using a wheelchair, with the left side of her face frozen and one eye nearly shut, she seemed disoriented as an aide steered her through the marble corridors of the Senate, complaining audibly that something was stuck in her eye."
People close to Feinstein say they find her attempt to function in the Senate in her condition as "frightening." A running joke in that crowd goes that, after her death, maybe then she'll entertain resigning.
The joke's on us.