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Rep. Ro Khanna Says Sen. Dianne Feinstein Should “Step Down with Dignity”

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Dianne Feinstein returned to the Senate last month after a prolonged absence due to poor health and as questions continue to grow about her fitness for office. Feinstein said she would resume her duties with a lighter schedule, but the 89-year-old senator is reportedly suffering from mental decline that leaves her heavily reliant on her aides. Congressmember Ro Khanna of California is among a growing number of Democrats who have called on Feinstein to retire. “The reality is that she’s not able to do the job,” says Khanna. “She just has a staff that’s running everything, and it’s a very, very sad situation.”

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

AMY GOODMAN: I wanted to ask you about a different issue, Congressman Khanna. Last month, your colleague, Democratic Senator from California Dianne Feinstein, returned to Capitol Hill for the first time since her office announced a diagnosis of shingles in February. The 89-year-old California Democrat said in a statement she’d resume her duties with a lighter schedule. She had missed 91 floor votes in the Senate. Her absence stalled the advance of President Biden’s judicial nominees, after Republicans denied Democrats’ requests to temporarily replace her on the Senate Judiciary Committee.

The San Francisco Chronicle last year published a story raising concerns about Feinstein’s mental faculties, months before this most recent announcement of shingles. And now there’s been some discussion, I think in The New York Times and others, that it was complicated by encephalitis. That’s inflammation of the brain.

California Congressmember, you and some of your colleagues, including New York Congressmember Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, have called on Feinstein to retire immediately. Now, in April, former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said calls for Feinstein to resign are sexist. This is what she said.

REP. NANCY PELOSI: It’s interesting to me. I don’t know what political agendas are at work that are going after Senator Feinstein in that way. I’ve never seen them go after a man who was sick in the Senate in that way.

AMY GOODMAN: So, that was Senator [sic] Pelosi — that was former House Speaker Pelosi. You were calling for Dianne Feinstein to resign when she wasn’t able to come back. Now she is. Why are you continuing to call for her to resign?

REP. RO KHANNA: It’s a very sad situation. And the reality is that she’s not able to do the job. In fact, just yesterday in my district, someone was talking about vacancies in the San Jose District Court, and could I contact my senator to discuss that. And I contacted Alex Padilla, because the reality is, no one can get in touch with her, that I know of. She just has a staff that’s running everything. And it’s a very, very sad situation. And she should step down with dignity.

Now, The New York Times has a long editorial where they actually refute Speaker Pelosi’s statement, and they say this has nothing to do with sexism or ageism; this is simply the view that people should be able to do the basics of the job. And that is, again, respecting the voters.

Here is, I think, partly what’s going on, in candor. There is a concern about who Governor Newsom would appoint if Dianne Feinstein stepped down. And Governor Newsom has said that he would appoint a Black woman. And I want to be transparent. I’m a co-chair of Barbara Lee’s Senate campaign, and many people have speculated that Barbara Lee would be one of the potential people that Gavin Newsom could appoint. And that, I think, is coloring a lot of why people want Dianne Feinstein to stay. To that, I have a simple reply: For 250 years in America, we’ve been tipping the scales against Black women. If one time the scales were tipped in their favor, it’s not the end of the world.

AMY GOODMAN: So, just to be very clear, you’re saying that because Gavin Newsom said he would appoint an African American woman — he said that to replace Kamala Harris, but then ended up appointing Alex Padilla, the first Latino senator to represent California. And so now it’s come down to this. Now, Nancy Pelosi has thrown her support to Adam Schiff. Katie Porter is also running. If Barbara Lee were appointed now, the concerns, as all the articles are talking about, is that would give her a leg up in this Senate race. Do you think that’s the reason Nancy Pelosi is throwing around these other charges, trying to keep Dianne Feinstein in office?

Politico has a piece I’m looking at right now, “Feinstein’s primary caregiver: Pelosi’s daughter.” Whenever you see Dianne Feinstein, the senator, in the Senate now, you often see right next to her Pelosi’s oldest daughter. And some are saying she’s really preventing her from being exposed to the press and others. Is this Nancy Pelosi’s real concern, is her favoring Adam Schiff for the Senate?

REP. RO KHANNA: Well, I respect Speaker Pelosi, and I certainly don’t want to speculate on her motives. But I do think, more generally, this is the primary concern of what’s motivating people to keep Dianne Feinstein in, in who’s going to succeed her. And many people — in fairness to Gavin Newsom, he never, in my understanding, made a hard commitment after Kamala Harris’s seat to appoint an African American woman. He said he would take that into consideration. But he has made a hard commitment on this seat to appoint an African American woman. I’ve said he could appoint a caretaker. But if he does choose to appoint Barbara Lee, like I said, I don’t think that’s the end of the world, given how much the country has been tilted against African American women for 250 years, given that we don’t have a single African American woman in the Senate. And I think that that broader dynamic of the Senate race is what is coloring people wanting Dianne Feinstein to stay there. And it’s a sad situation.

AMY GOODMAN: And finally, Congressmember Khanna, are you concerned that just as the Republicans said no to Dianne Feinstein being temporarily replaced on the Judiciary Committee when she was away — are you concerned that if she resigned and someone else stepped in, that somehow they would control whether or not there would be another Democrat allowed to be in the Judiciary Committee, where the judicial appointments are made?

REP. RO KHANNA: That’s a fair question. I am not, because the Republican leadership has said that if that situation happened, they would honor the process of allowing the replacement to be on the Judiciary Committee and make up the numbers, because that is the precedent that they have, and that affects the Republicans’ own seat assignments. And everyone that I have talked to on the Senate side believes that they would honor that, because it affects their own Senate seat assignments.

AMY GOODMAN: Congressmember Ro Khanna, we want to thank you for being with us, Democratic congressmember from California, deputy whip of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, speaking to us from Fremont, California.

Next up, we go to Atlanta, where a police SWAT team, guns drawn, raided the Atlanta Solidarity Fund, arresting three people who had been raising money to bail out protesters opposed to a massive police training facility known as Cop City, opposed to it being built. Stay with us.

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