Democrats Admit Senator Dianne Feinstein Is Too Old to Serve. What About Renominating President Biden?

From a Wall Street Journal column by Kimberley A. Strassel headlined “Democrats Discover the Age Issue”:

Nothing is certain but death and taxes, save perhaps Democrats’ recent ability to ignore the relevance of old age to that saying. Will their Dianne Feinstein problem provoke a rethink of the wisdom of renominating Joe Biden?

Ms. Feinstein, California’s 89-year-old senior senator, announced this week that her return to Washington would be delayed by “continued complications” of shingles. She has already missed nearly three-quarters of Senate votes this year because of her illness, though Democrats’ more immediate frustration is that her absence leaves the Judiciary Committee deadlocked, unable to greenlight Mr. Biden’s nominees. With the House in GOP hands, that’s about all the Senate is currently good for.

And don’t progressives know it. Plenty of senators have faced injury and illness before, some absent for long periods. But with a 51-49 Senate margin—and the potential for a judicial pileup or the loss of a crucial floor vote—Democrats have suddenly decided octogenarians pose a problem. 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.”

Don’t think Mr. Khanna is motivated entirely by civic-mindedness. Gov. Gavin Newsom has vowed to appoint a black woman to Ms. Feinstein’s seat should she step down before her term ends in 2025. Mr. Khanna happens to be a co-chairman of House Rep. Barbara Lee’s campaign for the seat. Ms. Lee is an obvious top contender for a placeholder pick, which would give her a huge leg up over rivals in 2024. It’s convenient when “country” holds a political upside.

Yet as ugly as the pressure campaign might be, the wonder is that Democrats didn’t act to avoid this situation at the obvious time. As Ms. Feinstein debated re-election in 2017 she was, at 84, already the oldest senator and already showing decline. Yet the California political firmament (Kamala Harris, Mr. Newsom) rallied with endorsements and rolled over a primary challenger backed by the California Democratic Party. What could go wrong?

Time, and age. Stories of Ms. Feinstein’s cognitive struggles are rife in Washington, at times on painful display. A 2020 New Yorker article related several excruciating instances, even as it reported that Mr. Schumer intervened to pressure her to relinquish her position as ranking member of the Judiciary Committee—which she did. That was more than two years ago.

Mr. Schumer says he’ll put forward a new organizing resolution that names a temporary replacement to Judiciary—“per Sen. Feinstein’s wishes”—and the media is suggesting Republicans have a duty to provide the necessary 60 votes. They don’t. This situation is a consequence of a close midterm election and Democrats’ decision to ignore the risks of such a scenario. (Much as they did as they cheered on John Fetterman’s Senate bid in Pennsylvania despite health problems following a stroke.) GOP Judiciary members are still entirely free to vote through judges who have bipartisan support. But Republicans have no obligation to empower Judiciary Democrats to push through Mr. Biden’s more radical picks. Democrats certainly wouldn’t if the situation were reversed.

Whatever Messrs. Khanna’s and Phillips’s motivations, they have thrust into central debate the topic of age and competency. 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. This week’s feature: Mr. Biden, in Ireland, embarrassingly confusing the New Zealand rugby team (the All Blacks) with a 1920s British paramilitary group that helped occupy Ireland (the Black and Tans).

Democrats kept mum about Mr. Biden’s predicament in the 2020 election, and even as concern has since grown, the party establishment remains loath to entertain a 2024 primary fight. Apart from what happens to the country under Mr. Biden’s leadership, Democrats might consider the potential for problems for the party, à la today’s Feinstein moment.

How electable will Mr. Biden be 19 months from now? Might Democratic voters—already feeding into the president’s low approval ratings—prove unwilling to turn out for the party’s anointed yet faltering nominee? What happens if Mr. Biden announces a run yet by next spring is incapable of following through, leaving the party in disarray?

One smart move in today’s crazy political environment is to assume anything is possible, including the worst. All the more so when there are already blaring signs of a problem to come. 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.

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