Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) had an awkward exchange with Senate Appropriations Chairwoman Patty Murray (D-Wash.) during a Senate hearing on Thursday, once again raising questions about the California lawmaker’s physical and mental acuity as she nears her 90th birthday.
During the hearing, Feinstein appeared to be launching into a lengthy speech, causing Murray to repeatedly push her to “just say aye,” according to CNN.
The entire exchange lasted less than a minute, but it was enough to renew questions about whether the veteran Democrat can continue to serve in the United States Senate.
“The senator was preoccupied, didn’t realize debate had just ended and a vote was called,” a spokesperson for Feinstein said in a statement. “She started to give a statement, was informed it was a vote, and then cast her vote.”
The incident is the latest in a string of episodes that suggest Feinstein’s age is a factor in her ability to perform her duties. She missed months of votes earlier this year and has been the subject of numerous reports and rumors of confusion and fatigue in recent months.
The Senate Appropriations Committee was considering legislation that would provide hundreds of billions of dollars for the Pentagon, the EPA, and other major federal departments and agencies.
Senators Murray and Susan Collins (R-Maine) had spoken about the proposal before Murray called a vote. As the clerk began reading off the names, Feinstein appeared to launch into a lengthy speech.
Murray and a staffer then had to intervene, prompting Feinstein to finally say “aye” after Murray told her to do so for a third time.
Feinstein is the oldest sitting senator and recently announced that she would not seek reelection. Despite rumors that she will step down early, Feinstein has continuously insisted that she will remain in office until her current term ends in 2022.
Still, her recent behavior has left some California Democrats worried about her ability to perform her job.
“What we’ve seen since the election is a decline in Senator Feinstein’s mental acuity,” one California Democrat said in an interview with Fox News. “We need to ensure that she is able to faithfully perform her duties, especially during a critical moment in our nation’s history.”
Feinstein has maintained a busy schedule in the Senate, participating in hearings, markups, and floor votes. It’s unclear if her presence at Thursday’s hearing was an aberration or part of a trend.
Meanwhile, Republicans have taken to social media to express their concerns about Feinstein’s condition, arguing that her continued presence in the Senate is no longer tenable.
“Our nation needs a senator who is in full command of their faculties,” one prominent Republican wrote. “Sen. Feinstein is no longer able to meet that standard.”
For the moment, Feinstein is paving her own way forward. But her future in the Senate is increasingly uncertain as her age continues to take its toll.
Asked to vote on the defense appropriations bill, Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) begins giving a speech: “I would like to support a ‘yes’ vote on this. It provides …”
Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA): “Just say aye.” pic.twitter.com/Gw2eZ9rEMv
— The Recount (@therecount) July 27, 2023
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