Senate minority leader Chuck Schumer has reportedly been forced to have several “serious and painful talks” with 87-year-old colleague Diane Feinstein, over alleged mental decline.
Ms Feinstein, who has represented California since 1992 and who previously served as mayor of San Francisco, was seen to repeat a question to Twitter boss Jack Dorsey during a November 17 hearing on Capitol Hill, something he chose to ignore, but which social media did not.
She had also angered some progressives during the recent confirmation hearting for justice Amy Coney Barrett, for the way she seen to be too deferential and excessively friendly with Republicans, who were pushing through Donald Trump’s nominee in controversial circumstances.
She said afterwards she would be giving up her position as ranking member on the judiciary committee.
Now, it has been reported Ms Feinstein’s mental and cognitive decline has been apparent to many people for several years.
The New Yorker said the situation was such that Mr Schumer, 70, the senator from New York and leader of the Democrats in the Senate, was forced to intervene personally after the Supreme Court confirmation hearing.
“Schumer had several serious and painful talks with Feinstein, according to well-informed sources. Overtures were also made to enlist the help of Feinstein’s husband, Richard Blum. Feinstein, meanwhile, was surprised and upset by Schumer’s message,” she said the article, by chief Washington correspondent Jane Mayer.
“Compounding the problem, Feinstein seemed to forget about the conversations soon after they talked, so Schumer had to confront her again.”
One source told the magazine: “It was like Groundhog Day, but with the pain fresh each time.”
The New Yorker article did not name its sources, but it did point to comments from others made after Ms Feinstein was seen to have fumbled the confirmation hearing of Ms Coney Barrett, something Mr Trump was desperate to take place before the election in order to cement the court’s conservative majority.
Ilyse Hogue, president of the reproductive-rights group naral Pro-Choice America, issued a statement accusing her of having failed to make clear that Ms Barrett posed “a grave threat” to “every freedom and right we hold dear”, and that she should stand aside.
Brian Fallon, executive director of the progressive advocacy group Demand Justice, and a former aide to Mr Schumer, said: “It’s time for Senator Feinstein to step down from her leadership position on the Senate Judiciary Committee. If she won’t, her colleagues need to intervene.”
The article said Ms Feinstein’s staff said she sometimes seemed herself, and other times appeared unreachable.
“The staff is in such a bad position,” said a former Senate aide. “They have to defend her and make her seem normal.”
There was no immediate response to inquiries from either Ms Feintein’s office or that of Mr Schumer.
During her 28 years in the Senate Ms Feinstein has taken on powerful interests such as as the gun lobby and the CIA’s torture programme. It is unclear whether she intends to serve out the remainder of her term, due to expire in 2024, when she will be ninety-one.
In 2018, during the confirmation hearing for justice Brett Kavanaugh, Ms Feinstein told The Independent there was no way she could support him given his views on women’s rights, gun control and presidential authority.
“I think his qualifications are there. I don’t agree with may of his views, particularly what I just said I and can’t vote for him, and I will be a no vote,” she said.
The plight of Ms Feinstein is not a challenge only she faces: many members of the Congress are in their late 70s and 80s.
Don Young, a Republican congressman from Alaska is aged 87, Chuck Grassley of Iowa is 87, Richard Shelby of Alabama is 86, as is James Inhofe of Oklahoma. Democratic congresswoman Eddie Bernice Johnson of Texas, is 85.
In such company, 78-year-old Joe Biden, and Donald Trump, 74, appear positively youthful.