Opinion: A nasty week for Mitch McConnell and Dianne Feinstein, leaders of Washington’s gerontocracy



This week ought to settle the query of whether or not California Sen. Dianne Feinstein will get a lot consideration for her age and psychological acuity, or lack thereof, solely as a result of she’s a girl, after years by which the Senate membership shielded its enfeebled males.

It was a nasty week for the Senate’s gerontocracy, when each Feinstein, 90, and 81-year-old Sen. Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the Republican minority chief, inadvertently demonstrated their doubtful health for workplace. A flummoxed Feinstein needed to be repeatedly prompted to say “aye” in a committee assembly. McConnell froze for half a minute speaking to reporters. And movies of the alarming, cringe-worthy, poignant moments on Wednesday inevitably went viral

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Opinion Columnist

Jackie Calmes

Jackie Calmes brings a important eye to the nationwide political scene. She has many years of expertise overlaying the White Home and Congress.

McConnell received essentially the most consideration and continues to take action, for good motive. It’s been years since Feinstein wielded the facility and affect of the dynamic committee chair she as soon as was. McConnell is the longest serving Senate social gathering chief for the reason that place developed within the late 1800s, and he’s continued to wield his energy to an unmatched extent.

Assume solely of his norms-busting abuse of the Senate’s affirmation energy: McConnell surprised even Republicans by barring President Obama from filling a Supreme Courtroom seat, then muscling by way of President Trump’s three nominees by among the narrowest votes in historical past to supply a 6-3 right-wing supermajority on the nation’s highest courtroom.

Since McConnell arrived within the Senate in 1985, I by no means doubted he could be one in all a too-long line of senators who needed to be carried out in a proverbial field. He’s hooked on energy and status (he’s not distinctive in that). However practically 40 years later, he’s additionally a lot diminished.

On Friday, his workplace — like Feinstein’s, so stingy with details about the senator’s situation — issued an announcement that McConnell will end his time period as minority chief by way of 2024. It didn’t say whether or not he’d search an eighth six-year time period in 2026. Feinstein has insisted she’s going to serve out her time period by way of subsequent yr, after which she’ll retire.

Inevitably all this redounds to our octogenarian president, Joe Biden, and to a lesser extent, former President Trump, who at 77 is simply three years youthful. McConnell himself drew a parallel with Biden when he joked that he’d been “sandbagged,” echoing Biden’s quip after he just lately fell over an obstruction after a graduation handle.

That projection is what makes the movies of Feinstein and McConnell so jarringly resonant: Think about if a president had been captured on digicam so clearly addled. A rattled nation would demand extra details about his or her underlying situation — not the sort of naked bones, incomplete and even deceptive stuff we get from Feinstein and McConnell.

Republicans prefer to falsely describe Biden as senile, however his stammers and gaffes are hardly what we noticed from the 2 senators. It appeared virtually voyeuristic to look at their misery. But it’s additionally maddening, on condition that both may need — ought to have — retired prior to now.

Previous generations of geriatric senators weren’t so readily caught on tape. However that is 2023 and it’s all viewable, in excruciating element.

When a clerk within the Senate Appropriations Committee started the roll name of senators to vote on a protection invoice, there was 5 seconds of silence after she referred to as “Feinstein.” Then Feinstein stated solely “Umm.” Democratic Sen. Patty Murray of Washington, sitting subsequent to her, prompted, “Say aye.”

Feinstein stated solely, “Yeah. Uh.” Once more, Murray informed her, “Simply say aye.” As an alternative, Feinstein learn a ready assertion concerning the invoice till an aide got here and whispered in her ear. Poor Murray, the committee chair, tried a 3rd time: “Simply say aye.” Lastly Feinstein snapped to, loudly saying “Aye!”

Watching it, you may virtually really feel the aid within the room. But later on the assembly, Feinstein once more needed to be corrected when she voted in opposition to a measure that she supported.

McConnell that day got here to a mic outdoors the Senate chamber to replace reporters on the legislative state of play, as is routine. However he stopped mid-sentence and for 32 seconds stared forward, by no means blinking, lips clenched. He didn’t react when Iowa Sen. Joni Ernst grabbed his arm and requested, “Are you good, Mitch?”

Lastly McConnell, plainly disoriented, turned towards Wyoming Sen. John Barrasso when Barrasso steered they go to McConnell’s workplace. A number of minutes later, McConnell returned to the press pack. “I’m wonderful,” is all he stated concerning the thriller, then and since.

For each McConnell and Feinstein, these weren’t their first well being scares. Feinstein was MIA from the Senate for months this yr with a case of shingles; it took the New York Instances to report she’d additionally had encephalitis. Within the carefully divided Senate, her absence pressured Democrats to delay affirmation of some Biden judicial nominees. When she lastly returned, she was in a wheelchair and as soon as insisted to a reporter that she hadn’t been gone: “I’ve been right here. I’ve been voting.”

McConnell likewise was absent for six weeks after he fell at a personal Washington dinner in March, struggling a concussion and damaged rib. Now we all know, once more due to the media, that he fell a minimum of two different occasions this yr — disembarking from a airplane on July 14 and, in February, getting out of a automobile in Helsinki on his technique to meet with the Finnish president.

Former Speaker Nancy Pelosi, 83, on TV just lately defended the parents — “Age is relative” — and Biden particularly: “He’s a child to me.”

However right here’s the distinction when its involves Feinstein and McConnell: Pelosi stepped except for her vaunted place. She ought to be the position mannequin.


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