Dianne Feinstein can't be recalled and she almost certainly won't be expelled from the Senate

Sen. Dianne Feinstein arrives at the US Capitol in Washington, DC on May 10, 2023.
Sen. Dianne Feinstein arrives at the US Capitol in Washington, DC on May 10, 2023.Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images
  • A new report raises even more concerns about Sen. Dianne Feinstein's health.

  • History shows that little is likely to change since her colleagues are extremely unlikely to remove her from office.

  • The grim reality, as people close to her reportedly joke about, is she will likely die in office.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein isn't going anywhere unless she makes the call herself.

After three months away from Washington, California's senior senator has returned to the same questions and concerns about her age and well-being that surrounded her before she left. And a startling New York Times report on Thursday makes clear the complications she's dealt with as a result of her shingles diagnosis might be far worse than were publicly known.

The reality is that while her colleagues have the power to force her from office, there is little chance they would pull that lever. The only thing that could change is that Feinstein suddenly bows to the pressure campaign, but thus far she has remained steadfast in doing the job even if it appears she might not even know that she's been away.

Expelling a senator for being too infirm to perform their duties would set a precedent that could easily befall one of her colleagues in the future. As Insider documented in its "Red, White, and Gray" project, Congress is older now than it has ever been before.

True, Feinstein's health is the topic du jour in Washington. But before her, Thad Cochran, Robert Byrd, Ted Kennedy, Frank Lautenberg, John McCain, Daniel Inouye, and Strom Thurmond all faced health complications late in their careers. Byrd, Thurmond, and Cochran all faced unflattering stories that virtually mirror what's been written about Feinstein. Out of that list, only Thurmond and Cochran did not die in office.

As The Washington Post pointed out, the grim history of senators' declining health can go as far back as 1942. Some of Sen. Carter Glass Virginia constituents went so far as to petition courts to remove him from office. No judge stepped in though and Glass later died in office.

The only true difference now is that Feinstein is a woman, a fact her allies and defenders have repeatedly pointed out. They think far much more pressure is being brought to bear on the 89-year-old than any previous man.

The last time the Senate actually expelled a member was in 1862 when it booted out 14 senators for supporting the Confederacy. The chamber has considered expulsion as recently as 1995, but so far in the modern era, lawmakers have either retired or resigned before they were formally kicked out.

None of the recent episodes bear any semblance to what Feinstein is experiencing. As for Californians, federal officeholders cannot be recalled or removed from office. Their power over Feinstein ended with her reelection in 2018.

The biggest power Feinstein's colleagues and critics can wield is shame. They can hope op-eds, anonymous anecdotes, and even public calls for resignation will suddenly change her mind.

But to some politicians, it's better to persevere and hold power than to relinquish it entirely, particularly when many came of age in a system that prized seniority.

It's not surprising then that some unnamed people close to Feinstein, "joke privately that perhaps when Ms. Feinstein is dead, she will start to consider resigning," according to the New York Times.

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