Almost everything in Washington, DC is now politically
hyper-partisanized, and that especially includes the
current brouhaha over two aged and ailing senators:
Diane Feinstein, California Democrat; and Mitch
McConnell, Republican minority leader from Kentucky.
Senator Feinstein is 90, visibly frail and frequently
hospitalized or otherwise absent from the Senate
chambers. She is a key vote on the senate judiciary
committee which confirms federal judges, and
because two of her colleagues, West Virginia Senator
Joe Manchin and Arizona Senator Kirstin Sinema,
frequently decline to vote with their party, a vital vote
for any Democratic legislation. (If Manchin and Sinema
don’t vote with the Democrats, and Feinstein is absent,
the Republicans have a 49-48 majority.)
Senator McConnell is 81, and following a recent fall and
resulting concussion, has appeared to “freeze” during
at least two very public appearances. Although he seems
so far able to serve as a Kentucky senator, it appears he
is struggling to fulfill the added duties of being his party’s
leader in the Senate. Polls indicate that a large majority
of voters think he should step down as minority leader.
Because the Senate is almost evenly split, any retirement
before the 2024 elections has been unlikely. But because
public opinion is now so overwhelming regarding Senators
Feinstein and McConnell, the fact that they are from
the two major parties, might provide a brief window in
which Senator Feinstein could resign and Senator
McConnell could step down as minority leader without
upsetting the current fragile make-up of the Senate.
Senator Feinstein is from California, and would be
immediately replaced by another Democrat appointed
the state’s Democratic governor. He has already
announced he would appoint a “caretaker” interim
senator whose term would end in January, 2025 (so as
not to interfere with the already-begun campaign to
replace Senator Feinstein who is retiring at the end of
her current term next year).
Because Kentucky has a Democratic governor, it would
not be necessary or likely that Senator McConnell should
leave the senate after retiring as minority leader. There
is no indication that his age and health would prevent
him from serving out his current term as senator.
At least three senior Republican senators have the
stature to replace McConnell as minority leader should
he step down now.
This brief window of opportunity for departure of the
two senators would have some impact. Democrats
would lose her key vote on the judiciary committee,
and the relationships of the Republican senate minority
created over time by Mr. McConnell vis a vis the
senate majority and the White House (now occupied
by a president who is a Democrat) would inevitably
change somewhat under a younger new leadership.
If the two individual senators and their party colleagues
do not voluntarily take advantage of this window now,
they might have no choice at a later date — as public
pressure, already substantial, becomes so great that
one, or both, have no choice.
They are also not the only elected figures in Washington,
DC facing doubts about their ability to serve because of
health and age issues. Senator Fetterman of Pennsylvania
has not seemed to recover fully from an earlier illness,
and President Biden, 81, himself has shown increasing
frailty in his public appearances.
(Eighteen members of the House of Representatives of both
parties are in their 80s, as well as many in their 70s. Along
with several senators on their 70s and 80s, most of them
continue to serve ably and in good health,)
Left unresolved, Senators Feinstein and McConnell face
becoming even more controversial figures as the 2024
national election cycle goes directly to the voters in an
already bitter and partisan campaign environment.
Copyright (c) 2023 by Barry Casselman. All rights reserved.