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Should Sen. Feinstein Resign? Why Aren’t Media, Colleagues Talking Openly About Mental Competence?

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We look at the question of whether Senator Dianne Feinstein, who is on the Judiciary Committee, should resign due to mental deterioration, and how the media has failed to fully address the issue, with longtime Supreme Court reporter Dahlia Lithwick. As a result of Feinstein’s current condition, “we’re not getting judges confirmed at rates that we need to see,” Lithwick says. This should lead to “soul-searching above and beyond competency to say, 'How am I hampering this institution from doing the essential work of government?'”

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: I want to ask you one last question, not related to this court, but it’s a very sensitive question about Senator Dianne Feinstein. There is very little discussion right now in the media of her mental condition. The idea that we’re talking about she has a case of shingles, and people are ruthless if they’re saying she should resign — of course, if she just had shingles, that would be a ridiculous demand. But this issue of her mental competence. And why I’m including this in this discussion, she sits on the Senate Judiciary Committee, and because of her absence, Democrats have not been able to approve judges. Can you respond? Last year, there was a whole discussion, even in the media. The San Francisco Chronicle last year talked about an unnamed lawmaker, California lawmaker, who expected to have a deep policy discussion with Dianne Feinstein. Instead, the lawmaker said they had to reintroduce themselves to Feinstein multiple times during an interaction that lasted several hours. And that congressmember said, “She was an intellectual and political force not that long ago, and that’s why my encounter with her was so jarring. Because there was … no trace of that.” You have Nancy Pelosi accusing Ro Khanna of being sexist for saying that she should step down. But are we looking at a level of mental deterioration that is paralyzing the Democrats in the Senate? Should she step down?

DAHLIA LITHWICK: It’s such an echo of the Ruth Bader Ginsburg conversation that we were having a few years ago, this question of how does somebody determine for themself, as objectively as they can, that they should step down because they’re imperiling the very institution they purport to love. I can’t claim to have any insider information on Senator Feinstein’s cognitive state. I read the same articles you did. Rebecca Traister had a phenomenal piece last year making some of these same claims.

I think I would say, what I think deeply on this issue is, to cloud it up with questions of ageism or sexism or questions of, you know, attacks on the senator is to really, I think, obscure the fact that, as you said, as a result of blue slips, as a result of the filibuster, as a result of her current condition, we’re not getting judges confirmed as quickly as we can. She issued a statement last week saying they’re going along at a fast clip, but they’re — really, in some ways, we’re not getting judges confirmed at rates that we need to see. And it seems to me that that’s a moment for soul-searching, above and beyond competency, to say, “How am I hampering this institution from doing the essential work of government?”

AMY GOODMAN: Dahlia Lithwick, I want to thank you for being with us, covering the courts and the law for Slate, hosts the podcast Amicus.

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