In a move criticized by many as ageist, Rep. Ro Khanna, D-California, has called on fellow Democrat Sen. Dianne Feinstein to immediately resign.
In a tweet April 12, Khanna wrote: “It’s time for Sen. Feinstein to resign. We need to put the country ahead of personal loyalty. While she has had a lifetime of public service, it is obvious she can no longer fulfill her duties.”
“Not speaking out undermines our credibility as elected representatives of the people,” tweeted Khanna. Rep. Dean Phillips, D-Minnesota, later echoed Khanna’s comments.
Feinstein, 89, has served California since 1992. Her ability to continue in her seat has been the subject of debate for at least the past two years. Aides to the senator have noted her lapsing memory and cognition, though she has continued to serve.
In February, Feinstein took a leave of absence as she was diagnosed with shingles, a viral infection that causes an extremely painful rash. On April 12, Feinstein announced that she was temporarily stepping down from the powerful Senate Judiciary Committee, and had asked Senate Majority leader Chuck Schumer to allow another Democrat to serve in her seat until she is able to resume her work.
Former Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, D-California, immediately characterized Khanna’s call for Feinstein’s resignation as both ageist and sexist.
“Sen, Feinstein has been a champion for California for 20 years. I have been leader or Speaker of the House fighting for California, and I have seen up close and first-hand her great leadership for the country, but most importantly for the state of California. She deserves respect to get well and back on duty,” she told CBS News.
“It's interesting to me, I don't know what political agendas are at work that are going after Sen. Feinstein in that way. I've never seen them go after a man who was sick in the Senate in that way,” said Pelosi.
The New York Times reported that Feinstein has missed 58 Senate votes since February, and Democrats did not want to head into the spring and summer without the ability to move ahead on judicial nominations.
In a statement to Spectrum News, Khanna stated that the need for Feinstein to step down was magnified by Texas Judge Matthew Kacsmaryk's ruling last week to reverse the FDA's approval of abortion medication mifepristone.
"The ruling by an extremist judge in Texas has made it clear that Democrats must act with speed and urgency to confirm judicial nominees who will protect the right to an abortion," Khanna said in the statement to Spectrum News. "Senator Feinstein is unable to fulfill her duties and for the good of the people, she should resign."
In February, Feinstein announced that she would not be seeking another term, but would serve out her current term, which ends Jan. 3, 2025. Several California politicians immediately threw their hats into the ring to fill the soon-to-be-vacant seat, including: Reps. Adam Schiff, former chair of the House Intelligence Committee; Katie Porter, and Barbara Lee, one of the most progressive members of the House
Khanna told New India Abroad in February that he was mulling over a bid to run for Feinstein’s seat, but would wait to see if Lee’s campaign was gaining momentum.
“I have a lot of respect for Barbara Lee, so that’s obviously something that I will consider. I just want to make sure that she has a strong campaign and will be able to have the resources and campaign structure to win. And if I feel by the end of this month that she's put that together, that will weigh heavily on what I decide,” said Khanna, who was recently named co-chair of the Congressional Caucus on India and Indian Americans.
“I've had a lot of people — especially the Bernie Sanders base around the state — approach me and say that I've got good policies on Medicare for all, free public college, technology jobs and creating those jobs,” said the congressman, who served as co-chair for Sanders’ presidential campaign in 2020.
A Berkeley IGS poll conducted in February showed Schiff and Porter taking a wide lead over Lee and Khanna. Schiff led with 22 percent, with Porter not far behind at 20 percent. Lee received 6 percent, while Khanna got 4 percent.
More than 39 percent of voters surveyed said they were undecided, while 8 percent said they would vote for someone other than those four. Six in 10 voters say they have no opinion of Lee or Khanna.
The race is predicted to be one of the most expensive Senate races in the country, topping out at over $200 million.