Dianne Feinstein is MIA

It's time for her to step down.

Jezebel’s Kylie Cheung is perhaps a bit harsh but casts light on an important issue in her piece “Dianne Feinstein Is MIA, and Her Absence Is Holding Up Judicial Confirmations.

At what is clearly a critical time for confirming good federal judges, Sen. Dianne Feinstein’s (D-Calif.) increasingly prolonged absence from the Senate is apparently holding up the process for a number of President Joe Biden’s judicial picks this year.

Feinstein, who was hospitalized in early March for shingles and has remained in her San Francisco home since March 7, has missed 60 votes of the 82 taken in the Senate in 2023, per the San Francisco Chronicle. And as the Senate, which has been on recess since March 31, prepares to return on April 17, Judiciary Committee Chair Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) said on Monday that Feinstein’s absence from the Senate—and the Judiciary Committee specifically—will impede Democrats’ ability to confirm judicial nominees.

“I can’t consider nominees in these circumstances, because a tie vote is a losing vote in committee,” Durbin told CNN. He continued, “We still have some nominees left on the calendar that we can work on. … But we have more in the wings that we would like to process through the committee.”

Feinstein’s team has been tight-lipped about when, if at all, she’ll return to D.C. Her spokesperson told the Chronicle this week that the 89-year-old “continues to work from home in San Francisco as she recuperates.” Earlier this year, Feinstein announced she won’t seek reelection in 2024 as a handful of Democratic House members vie for her seat. But she intends to serve out the rest of her term, which is set to end in January 2025. That’s close to two years from now, and it’s troubling to consider all the key votes and confirmation processes that could be stalled by Feinstein’s absence—either now or in the future, if she becomes ill again—given Democrats’ razor-thin 51-49 majority.

Just last week, a Trump-appointed federal judge in Texas ruled that the FDA didn’t have the authority to approve the abortion pill mifepristone, potentially jeopardizing access to a medication that millions have relied on to safely end a pregnancy. At the same time, a federal judge in Washington wrote that the FDA is actually barred from “altering the status quo and rights as it relates to the availability of Mifepristone.” Federal judges have always been important—but the fall of Roe v. Wade and a broader judicial system increasingly overrun with right-wing extremists has upped the stakes even further, and created even more urgency around confirming liberal, pro-abortion rights judges in a timely manner.

Questions about Feinstein’s fitness to serve have followed her for years now, particularly since an unsettling moment in 2020 when she embraced Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) and seemed supportive of Amy Coney Barrett’s confirmation to the Supreme Court, prompting questions of whether she even knew what was going on. Shortly after, Feinstein was removed from her position as Chair of the Judiciary Committee—but a report from the time claimed Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) had to twice inform Feinstein of her removal because she forgot the first time. Last year, a separate San Francisco Chronicle report citing unnamed senators and Senate staffers claimed Feinstein’s memory was “rapidly deteriorating,” and that she’s “mentally unfit” to continue serving. And back in February, Feinstein and her team struggled to even coordinate on something as simple as the timing of her announcement that she isn’t seeking reelection.

Feinstein represents 40 million Americans and serves on four Senate committees. It seems we can both thank her for her service and decades of blazing a path for women in politics and recognize that her remaining in the Senate past her ability to do her job isn’t exactly a feminist victory—not when women and pregnant people stand to be harmed the most by the stalled confirmation of liberal judges.

Whether liberal judges and “good judges” are synonymous is, I suppose, a matter of taste. But, certainly, Feinstein would tend to think so.

Feinstein is 89 and turns 90 in a little over two months. She has already announced her intention to retire at the end of her term, but that’s almost two years from now. It would almost certainly be best for all concerned for her to step down now.

In such a close Senate, every vote counts. Alas, Senators miss time for all manner of reasons. New Pennsylvania Senator John Fetterman, who’s just 53, just missed several weeks getting treatment for depression. Connecticut Senator Richard Blumenthal, 77, managed to break his leg celebrating his flagship university’s basketball championship. Nobody is calling for their resignation.

But Feinstein is obviously in a different boat. It’s not simply that she’s old but that her mental state is clearly in rapid decline. It’s unlikely she’ll ever be able to do her job effectively again.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Argon says:

    What is the process for removing a US Senator for mental or medical incompetency? Does the governor need to trigger it?

  2. Stormy Dragon says:

    At least replace her on the judiciary committee so its work can go forward…

  3. HarvardLaw92 says:


    She would have to be expelled by her fellow senators in a 2/3rds majority vote, which obviously is never going to happen. Unless she chooses to retire, she is stuck like glue.

  4. HarvardLaw92 says:

    @Stormy Dragon:


  5. Beth says:

    @Stormy Dragon:

    Does anyone honestly think that McConnell wouldn’t do that if he was in the same position? She would have been gone two weeks ago.

    The frustrating thing is I doubt any Democrats would be in the least bit miffed if she was replaced.

  6. Andy says:

    Feinstein is definitely too old and should step down.

    But it’s also the 21st century, and the requirement to actually be in the chamber to vote seems like a very 19th-century requirement.

    You don’t need to open up remote voting completely – doing that would mean that a lot of Senators may decamp from DC entirely, but at least allow members some latitude to vote remotely due to extenuating circumstances.

  7. gVOR08 says:


    Does anyone honestly think that McConnell wouldn’t do that (replace a missing member on the Judicial Committee) if he was in the same position?

    He wouldn’t right now. He’s also been MIA for some weeks. The KY lege is rewriting the rules to restrict D Governor Beshear’s ability to replace Moscow Mitch should it become necessary.

  8. ptfe says:

    @Andy: Yeah, outside of security verification, there’s nothing that should prevent remote voting. They could even formalize the process by forcing members to nominate remote voters at the start of each session. Make each one require voice approval of N members of the chamber (where N is small – like 3), and once that’s happened their vote can be done via whatever secure mechanism they establish.

    The Senate, though…what a weird institution.

  9. gVOR08 says:

    @Andy: I’ve been of the opinion that the House should increase in size, as Dr. T recommends, but rather than cram a thousand or more of them into the Capitol, or expand the Capitol, decentralize. Not Zoom from home, but maybe half a dozen regional “subCapitols”. Easier travel for the Reps. But also spread the employment and influence around more evenly. Also some of the agencies.

    As you say, it’s the 21st century. They can be in the same room without being in the same room. Downtowns are dying because they’re no longer necessary, maybe DC is in the same boat. Make DC a state to compensate for the loss of jobs.

  10. Stormy Dragon says:


    One sub-capitol per census division:


    1. Boston
    2. New York City
    3. Philadelphia
    4. Charlotte
    5. Atlanta
    6. Detroit
    7. Chicago
    8. Kansas City
    9. Dallas
    10. Denver
    11. Seattle
    12. Los Angeles

    And #2 and #3 can even leverage off having hosted the congress at some point prior to the construction of the Capitol

  11. daryl and his brother darryl says:

    The poor woman likely doesn’t even know she is not at work.
    I hope someone euthanizes me when I get to this point in life.
    Which reminds me…

  12. Sleeping Dog says:


    They’ve already done that. KY passed a law on appointments that the appointee must be from the same party as the person being replaced.

  13. Andy says:


    Expanding the House has long been one of my soapboxes. Alas, the House itself and it’s representatives are not interested in diluting their individual power in the cause of greater representation.

    But should that ever happen, I do like the idea of regional “subcapitols.” All that would really be needed is a building with the requisite security, communication and other support infrastructure.

    The alternative is building/leasing additional space in the DC area. Lots of federal agencies do this already. And for traditionalists, there is always the option to expand the Capitol building itself.

  14. Rick DeMent says:

    @Sleeping Dog:

    They’ve already done that. KY passed a law on appointments that the appointee must be from the same party as the person being replaced.

    so what counts as a Republican? Anyone who says they are? Registered as a Republican in the state? How hard would it be to find a left leaning vet to register as a Republican and then have a come to Jesus a few days after being appointed and switching parties?

  15. gVOR08 says:

    @Rick DeMent: I believe the scheme was to limit the governor to picking from a list provided by the state committee of the party of the departed senator.

  16. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @daryl and his brother darryl: This sounds kind of fun, actually. I might consider doing it.

  17. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @Rick DeMent: “How hard would it be to find a left leaning vet to register as a Republican and then have a come to Jesus a few days after being appointed and switching parties?”

    I’ll go with “harder than it would appear given the current climate,” but I AM a cynic.

  18. Gustopher says:

    They should appoint someone else to the judiciary committee, at least temporarily.

    In fact, generalize it. Key procedural committees should have an understudy — a non-voting non-member who is up to date on the workings, and who can be appointed during a prolonged absence.

    And then when Feinstein is able to return, remove the understudy and return Feinstein, so she can vacantly ask her questions, fail to understand the answers, forget she even asked the question, ask again, and vote with the Democrats.

    (But we need to keep her on in case there’s a Supreme Court vacancy. I am morbidly excited about the prospect of her learning Roe v. Wade was overturned from a nominee.)

  19. Michael Cain says:

    @Stormy Dragon:

    I certainly agreement with the sentiment of replacing DiFi on the Judiciary Committee, but wonder about the feasibility. The Dem Senate caucus rules are very heavy on seniority, and DiFi is very senior. Removing her from the committee involuntarily may be a difficult procedural task.

  20. daryl and his brother darryl says:

    @Just nutha ignint cracker:
    Other than it seems like you would have a long time to reconsider…

  21. Raoul says:

    She should have step down a long time ago. This is starting to feel like an RGB situation. Over at LGM she is considered to have the worst WAR rating of any Dem senator.

  22. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @daryl and his brother darryl: Nah! Once the restraining bar has clicked into place, the time to reconsider is ovah!

  23. Paine says:

    Anyone who would rather be a senator at her age as opposed to sitting on the deck of your retirement home on the Mexican coast is clearly holding on to the job for all the wrong reasons.

  24. anjin-san says:

    I would not be surprised to see a resignation soon. Her position is not really tenable. Democrats in CA are unhappy with the situation, and the rainmakers in the party are hearing about it.

  25. anjin-san says:


    clearly holding on to the job for all the wrong reasons.

    If not for the murder of Mayor Moscone, it’s doubtful she would have ever risen beyond the SF Board of Supervisors. Her career probably has far exceeded her own expectations, and that’s led her to hold on too tightly.

  26. Tony W says:

    One of the problems with her resigning is then Newsom has to play kingmaker.

    If I was laying bets, Adam Schiff is likely the next Senator from California, but for Newsom to just appoint him is going to disappoint Katie Porter’s supporters – and it would shortcut the active Senate race going on right now.

    Still, you could do a lot worse than just appointing Adam Schiff and calling it done. Porter’s House seat is anything but a sure thing since she’s from a conservative district.

  27. wr says:

    @Tony W: “Still, you could do a lot worse than just appointing Adam Schiff and calling it done.”

    I’m a huge Adam Schiff fan — he used to be my congressman, and I even met him once — and also love the idea of Senator Katie Porter. But Newsom said a while back that if there was a vacancy he would appoint a black woman, and it’s hard to see how he can back down from there. So that probably means Barbara Lee, unless he wants to find someone will to to be a caretaker who will vow not to run for the seat…