Sen. Dianne Feinstein is back in D.C., at least physically, although she maintains that she never went to California for a couple of months to recuperate from shingles and encephalitis. Many Democrats wonder if Feinstein is up to the job of representing 40 million Californians in the Senate. Now a fifth one, Rep. Ritchie Torres (D-NY), has gone public and openly called for her to resign from the Senate right now so that Gov. Gavin Newsom (D-CA) can appoint a new and fully functional senator. The other four are Reps. Ro Khanna (D-CA), Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY), Dean Phillips (DFL-MN) and Rashida Tlaib (D-MI).
Feinstein appears very frail and is using a wheelchair, in addition to her mental issues. In reality, the only thing a senator must be able to do is vote in committee and on the floor of the Senate. In principle, her staff can deal with constituents and other things. So if her staff wheels her in to committee meetings and asks her to raise her hand at the right moments, she can meet the minimum requirements. However, the inevitable comparisons with Strom Thurmond, who barely knew he was alive during his final year in the Senate, will not be flattering.
Of course, senators also have a lot of informal power. For example, when lobbying other senators for votes on bills they like, a senator can say: "If you vote for my bill, I'll mention you favorably to my big donors." Staffers can't do that. Technically, lawyers on Feinstein's staff can write bills for the senator to throw into the hopper, but they are not going to do that without the senator making it clear what she wants in the bill. In effect, 40 million Californians now have one fully functional (but junior) senator and one bare-bones senior senator who just meets the minimum requirements and no more. Everyone knows this, but most of the other Democratic senators also know Feinstein is famously stubborn, which is why no Democratic senators have publicly asked her resign, just House members, most of whom probably do not know her well. Still the chorus is getting stronger. (V)