May 3, 2023

Should Dianne Feinstein retire?

Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) speaking in 2020. Image: Senate Democrats / Flickr
Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) speaking in 2020. Image: Senate Democrats / Flickr

The 89-year-old is under increased pressure to step down.

I’m Isaac Saul, and this is Tangle: an independent, nonpartisan, subscriber-supported politics newsletter that summarizes the best arguments from across the political spectrum on the news of the day — then “my take.”

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Today's read: 10 minutes.

We're covering the calls for Sen. Dianne Feinstein to retire. Plus, a question about how a political candidate should handle their pro-life beliefs.

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Quick hits.

  1. President Biden plans to send 1,500 active-duty U.S. troops to the Mexican border for 90 days, ahead of the end of the Title 42 public health measure that was used to expel asylum seekers during the pandemic. (The story)
  2. After a dayslong manhunt, Texas police arrested the man they believe fatally shot five people in a neighborhood outside the town of Cleveland, Texas. The suspect, Francisco Oropesa, is a Mexican national who had been deported four times, and was reportedly in the U.S. illegally. (The arrest)
  3. The Biden administration will end a Covid-19 vaccination requirement for federal workers, contractors, international travelers, and healthcare workers. (The end)
  4. In one of the largest busts of its kind, 288 people were arrested for trafficking fentanyl and opioids on the dark web, according to a U.S. Justice Department announcement. (The arrest)
  5. In a major labor dispute, roughly 11,500 members of the Writers Guild of America went on strike yesterday. Most late night television shows started airing reruns last night. (The strike)

Tucker text.

The New York Times is reporting on the Tucker Carlson text that purportedly cost him his job at Fox News. The text, in full, reads as follows:

A couple of weeks ago, I was watching video of people fighting on the street in Washington. A group of Trump guys surrounded an Antifa kid and started pounding the living shit out of him. It was three against one, at least. Jumping a guy like that is dishonorable obviously. It’s not how white men fight. Yet suddenly I found myself rooting for the mob against the man, hoping they’d hit him harder, kill him. I really wanted them to hurt the kid. I could taste it. Then somewhere deep in my brain, an alarm went off: this isn’t good for me. I’m becoming something I don’t want to be. The Antifa creep is a human being. Much as I despise what he says and does, much as I’m sure I’d hate him personally if I knew him, I shouldn’t gloat over his suffering. I should be bothered by it. I should remember that somewhere somebody probably loves this kid, and would be crushed if he was killed. If I don’t care about those things, if I reduce people to their politics, how am I better than he is?

You can find our previous coverage of Carlson's firing here.

Today's topic.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA). The 89-year-old senator has served in the Senate for more than 30 years, making her the longest-serving woman in U.S. Senate history. Last year, The New York Times reported that Feinstein was struggling "to recall the names of colleagues, frequently has little recollection of meetings or telephone conversations, and at times walks around in a state of befuddlement." San Francisco Chronicle and The New Yorker had previously published stories describing similar issues.

This year, Feinstein has been home since March fighting shingles, which has resulted in her missing critical votes for the Senate judiciary committee, leaving President Biden short of the necessary votes to advance some of his nominees.

Now, Feinstein is under increasing pressure to step down, with calls coming not just from her political opponents and constituents, but also members of her own party. Two weeks ago, Feinstein once again publicly rejected those calls to retire prematurely (she has already said she will not run for re-election in 2024), and instead said she plans to step away from the judiciary committee and allow a temporary replacement to fill her spot.

But Republicans have rejected that idea, knowing it would allow him to begin pushing through his judicial nominees. Biden has now changed course, adopting a new strategy to court individual Republicans to get his judges though.

“I intend to return as soon as possible once my medical team advises that it’s safe for me to travel,” Feinstein said two weeks ago. “In the meantime, I remain committed to the job and will continue to work from home in San Francisco."

While some of Feinstein's colleagues — including Democratic Reps. Ro Khanna (CA) and Dean Phillips (MN) have called for her to step down, others have defended her, saying she is the victim of sexist or ageist attacks.

"We have male members that have various challenges, and I'm not hearing anybody suggesting that they retire," Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) said. "I do think she has been treated unfairly. And so she'll make the decision, and I will support that decision."

Today, we're going to take a look at some arguments over whether Feinstein should step down with views from the left and right, then my take.

What the right is saying.

  • Many on the right call for Feinstein to retire, and criticize Democrats who are defending her.
  • Some call out the Democrats who say she should retire, asking why they don't apply the same standard to President Biden and Sen. John Fetterman (D-PA).
  • Others call for a competency test for all politicians over the age of 75.

In The Wall Street Journal, Kimberley A. Strassel said Democrats discovered the age issue.

"California Rep. Ro Khanna unloosed the hordes on Wednesday with a tweet demanding Ms. Feinstein resign, citing the need to put 'country ahead of personal loyalty.' He was joined by Minnesota Rep. Dean Phillips, who called it a 'dereliction of duty' for Ms. Feinstein to remain in office and for Democrats to 'remain quiet.'" But Khanna isn't "motivated by civic-mindedness," he's the co-chair of House Rep. Barabara Lee's campaign for the seat" and Gov. Gavin Newsom has pledged to appoint a black woman if Feinstein steps down.

"Whatever Messrs. Khanna’s and Phillips’s motivations, they have thrust into central debate the topic of age and competency," Strassel said. "Which raises the obvious question of how it is not likewise a 'dereliction of duty' for Democrats to remain silent about Mr. Biden. His decline has become impossible to ignore, and the pace is notable, with weekly if not daily gaffes, stumbles and confusion." Biden may not be electable in 19 months, and Democrats "might view the Feinstein moment as a warning of the danger they are courting by continuing to close their eyes to what the rest of the country so clearly sees."

In Fox News, Nikki Haley said it is time for a competency test for politicians over the age of 75.

Feinstein is "a trailblazer who’s made an indelible mark in public service," But it’s obvious "that she’s in significant mental and physical decline. She’s missed months of votes and clearly can no longer do her job. I agree with several congressional Democrats who say Feinstein should resign immediately and let someone else who is able to do the job take over," Haley said. "At 89 years old, she is a prime example of why we need mental competency tests for politicians."

This is not about Feinstein being a woman, Haley said. In fact, "the best case for such tests is … a man. He’s a former senator and the sitting president." The test I'm proposing "is not complicated or difficult," it's the "Montreal Cognitive Assessment Test” which “is a widely used tool for detecting cognitive decline." This is "not a qualification for office" and failing "would not result in removal," but it's about "transparency... Voters deserve to know whether those who are making major decisions about war and peace, taxation and budgets, schools and safety, can pass a very basic mental exam."

In The Federalist, Jonathan S. Tobin called out the "double standard" from Democrats on mental acuity.

Sen. John Fetterman just returned to Congress, and while Democrats celebrated, a "C-Span video of him chairing a Senate subcommittee provided sobering evidence of the recovering stroke victim’s limitations. Much like his disastrous election debate last October, at the hearing, Fetterman’s halting speech, barely understandable comments, and inability to communicate without electronic aid illustrated his incapacity," Tobin said.

"But while Democrats are quick to slam as bigots anyone who had the temerity to notice Fetterman’s problems, they are not feeling quite so generous about another member of their Senate caucus," Tobin wrote. "The double standard creates an ominous precedent that ought to hang over the 2024 presidential election." Democrats reacted to questions posed by Fetterman’s obvious limitations as a senator with "denial and an attempt to shame skeptics with pious rhetoric about ableism." But they're indifferent to the effort to push Feinstein out on the grounds of ageism, "which have just as much validity as their defense of Fetterman."

What the left is saying.

  • The left is divided, with some commentators calling on Feinstein to retire and others saying she should be given more time.
  • Some on the left say Feinstein is hurting the party and clearly has cognitive issues.
  • Others say Feinstein deserves patience from her colleagues to see how she recovers from shingles.

In MSNBC, Marisa Kabas said Democrats "have a big Dianne Feinstein problem."

"Since the ultra-conservative takeover of the Supreme Court that was completed by former President Donald Trump led to Roe v. Wade being overturned, confirming liberal judges in the lower federal courts has been an even more crucial part of President Joe Biden’s agenda. And it’s why during the 2022 midterms, Democrats stressed the importance of having 51 (and not just 50) senators they could count on to vote with them," Kabas said. But Feinstein has been away, "which means Democrats have been unable to advance any Biden nominees to the federal judiciary."

"While so many of our country’s current and past ills can be traced back to misogyny, this isn’t one of them," Kabas wrote. "Feinstein made a conscious decision to run for reelection in 2018 at age 85. And since her reelection, there’ve been multiple stories questioning her cognitive abilities." Feinstein isn't "any regular woman," she's one of the most powerful in the nation, and her power is "being squandered by hubris."

In The San Francisco Chronicle, Emily Hoeven said it was too early to call for Feinstein to retire.

"Feinstein’s determination and steeliness are admirable. It’s those qualities, after all, that have defined her career and made her a political icon. Her toughness helped her break through rampant misogyny to become the first female mayor of San Francisco in 1978 and to fight off repeated challenges from the left — including in 2018 when the California Democratic Party endorsed her challenger, the more progressive (and since disgraced) Kevin de León. Californians stuck with Feinstein, electing her with more than 54% of the vote. Last year, she became the longest-serving female senator in U.S. history."

But has this toughness morphed into stubbornness, to "the detriment of herself and the disenfranchisement of her constituents?" Shingles typically resolves in the first month or two, but if it lasts past three, her current symptoms are unlikely to go away. "Despite Democrats’ understandable impatience," the question of whether she is an effective representative for 40 million "can’t be definitively answered until Feinstein’s diagnosis hits at least the three-month mark." Given her circumstances, "Feinstein deserves the opportunity to make a full recovery before being jostled out of office."

In Jacobin, Liza Featherstone said calling for her retirement "is stating the obvious."

As a result of Feinstein's latest absence, the Senate "voted to overturn a critical Biden administration effort to control truck emissions," Featherstone said. "The vote on truck emissions was fifty to forty-nine, with Joe Manchin, coal baron and ally of the death-drive faction of US politics, joining the Republicans, who said the Biden regulations were too ‘burdensome’ on the trucking industry. People will die because of this vote — a disgraceful yet fitting finale to Feinstein’s career, which has been spent faithfully serving capital."

"Predictably, Feinstein has her defenders, all accusing the critics of various 'isms.' Nancy Pelosi suggested that the calls for Feinstein to step down were sexist. New York senator Kirsten Gillibrand agreed, as did California representative Norma Torres, Michigan senator Debbie Stabenow, and even some Republican women, like Senators Marsha Blackburn and Joni Ernst of Tennessee and Iowa, respectively," Featherstone said. "Others have cried ‘ableism’ and ‘ageism,’ real problems but not applicable to a situation in which one person not showing up to work has such a devastating impact on the larger society."

My take.

Reminder: "My take" is a section where I give myself space to share my own personal opinion. If you have feedback, criticism, or compliments, don't unsubscribe. You can reply to this email and write in. You can also leave a comment.

  • She should step down immediately.
  • It isn't ageist or sexist to say so, and those attacks are unhelpful.
  • If anything, this has gone on for too long.

A few months ago, Feinstein's office put out a statement from her that she wouldn't seek re-election in 2024. A reporter then asked her about her plans to retire. "Well, I haven’t made that decision. I haven’t released anything," she said, apparently unaware or forgetting that she had literally released something the day before. "Senator, we put out your statement," a staff member for Feinstein corrected her. "You put out the statement? I should have known they put it out."

That exchange just about sums it up.

The drama around Feinstein is a nice encapsulation of how absurd our politics have become and how ad-hominem attacks are now the go-to defense when someone is making an obvious point you don’t like. It isn't ageist to suggest someone who doesn't show up to work should retire. It isn't sexist to suggest someone who can't remember what meeting they are in should not be serving in the Senate.

"I think the standard she's being held to is unacceptable and unprecedented," Sen. Gillibrand said. Huh? What standard? Coming to work? Remembering your colleagues' names? Rep. Norma Torres (D-CA) tweeted that when men age or get sick, “they get a promotion.” I’d very much like to be pointed to the men who get promoted when they miss two months of work for being sick.

The idea that there is some unevenness here in how men and women are being treated is plainly untrue. I understand that sexism has permeated American politics for decades and in many ways it still does — but this is not that. Let’s deal with the present. Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA) has been urged to retire pretty much every single year since he turned 80, and just like Feinstein he continues to refuse. Unlike Feinstein, he shows up to work and isn't displaying obvious signs of cognitive decline. The number one attack line against President Biden right now is his age and his public appearances. Every single time Biden forgets what country he was just in or mixes up words, there are howls for him to retire or for Democrats to abandon his 2024 campaign. And as much as I worry about Biden’s mental acuity, even his most unsettling public appearances aren’t as worrisome as the stories from Feinstein’s camp.

In fact, I'll take it a step further and say that accusing people of sexism and ageism and ableism for refusing to accept Feinstein's current perch in the Senate is actually damaging to women, the elderly, and anyone who isn't able-bodied. It's precisely the kind of hollow accusation that deserves mockery and also undermines actual sexism, ageism, and ableism when it really happens. It's the boy who cried wolf dynamic, and far too many Democrats are falling into it.

Senator Feinstein, who by all accounts is an American legend and the kind of person buildings will be named after in Washington D.C., is no longer capable of serving in Congress. We have ample evidence for this simple reality, and have had for years. Every day she spends staving off retirement is another day tarnishing her reputation and undermining a legacy that is widely respected by people on the left and right.

This shouldn't be complicated or controversial. The singular argument for keeping her in office is that California constituents put her there, but that was four years ago and the flood of stories — on top of her absences — should now be disqualifying. Biden's issues and Fetterman's issues are different and should be addressed separately, but Feinstein's case is far less complicated. It's time for her to step down, and it's time for her defenders to stop attacking anyone who says so for stating the obvious.

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Your questions, answered.

Q: What advice would you give to a political candidate who wants to win an election without compromising their morals and beliefs? I generally lean-Democrat, however, I am pro-life, and I feel that this would hinder me if I ran for political office. How should someone navigate this dilemma?

— Connor from Greenville, South Carolina

Tangle: I think the most important thing is to be honest about your views. I'm not sure what "compromising" your values or beliefs looks like in this situation, but I absolutely would not change or conceal your views on abortion in order to win an election. I think you have two options:

1) You can be honest about your perspective and try to convince Democratic voters that your position on abortion is superior. Or,

2) You can be honest about your perspective and try to convince Republican voters that you'll stand for pro-life positions and you're right about the other issues where you might disagree.

Obviously, both of these are difficult tasks. But you might be surprised how many pro-life Democrats there are, or how many "Republicans" are really just pro-life and pretty left or center on everything else. I think a lot of folks on both sides are hungry for moderation and honesty, so I'd just lean into who you genuinely are and let the cards fall where they may.

Want to have a question answered in the newsletter? You can reply to this email (it goes straight to my inbox) or fill out this form.

Under the radar.

On Monday, the Supreme Court said it would reconsider an 1984 precedent some conservatives argue gives too much power to federal regulators. The precedent directs courts to defer to an agency's legal approach when Congress has left statutory language ambiguous. Initially, the so-called "Chevron deference" (from Chevron v. Natural Resources Defense Council) was used by the Reagan administration to fend off challenges from environmentalists. Now, though, conservatives argue federal judges should have more power to set aside regulations. The Wall Street Journal has the story.

Blindspot report.

Once a week, we present the Blindspot Report from our partners at Ground News, an app that tells you the bias of news coverage and what stories people on each side are missing.

The right missed a story about Will Wilkerson, who once helped run Trump's Truth Social, then blew the whistle on the former president, and now works at a Starbucks.

The left missed a story about the release of Jeffrey Epstein's calendar, which included planned meetings with an Obama administration official and the CIA chief.


  • 30%. The percentage of registered California voters who approved of the job Feinstein was doing, in a February 2022 poll.
  • 49%. The percentage of registered California voters who disapproved of the job she was doing.
  • 48%. The percentage of registered California voters who approved of the job Feinstein was doing in 2017.
  • 38%. The percentage of registered California voters who disapproved of the job Feinstein was doing in 2017.
  • 64%. The percentage of Democrats nationwide who think Feinstein should retire, according to a poll conducted in April by Economist/YouGov.
  • 54%. The percentage of Democrats nationwide who had a favorable view of Feinstein, according to the same Economist/YouGov poll.

The extras.

  • One year ago today, we were covering the debate over prayer at school.
  • The most clicked link in yesterday's newsletter (for the third newsletter in a row) the pro tips on secret ingredients for common recipes.
  • Mixed bag: 38.6% of readers said "I think the Supreme Court should draft and impose a code of ethics for itself," 34.2% said "I think the Supreme Court needs a code of ethics, but I'm unsure how best to implement one," and 13.9% said "I think Congress should draft and impose a code of ethics for the Supreme Court." Only 8.7% said there should be no change or no code of ethics.
  • Nothing to do with politics: My new favorite Twitter account: Zillow gone wild, showing off the wildest homes on the internet.
  • Take the poll. Should Dianne Feinstein retire? Let us know.

Have a nice day.

You've probably heard a lot about sargassum recently. In case you haven't, it’s the invasive seaweed that often looks reddish or brown in color and is piling up on beaches across the Caribbean and Mexico. Sargassum blobs have been growing in size recently due to warming waters, and they're becoming a major issue for tourism destinations and beaches across the Americas. But Omar de Jesús Vazquez Sánchez is offering a solution: Sarablock. His small company, based in Mexico's Yucatán Peninsula, is transforming the algae into construction blocks. Today, he's selling the blocks to construction companies and using them to build sustainable housing. Christian Science Monitor has the story.

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