Debbie Stabenow's Senate retirement puts spotlight on Dianne Feinstein's future plans

Sen. Debbie Stabenow’s (D-MI) Thursday announcement that she won’t be seeking a fifth term next year has put a fresh spotlight on a handful of other congressional lawmakers who may also bow out in 2024, including Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA).

Feinstein is the oldest sitting senator and, at 89, has dealt with a growing chorus of calls to step down in recent years. There have been news stories about her alleged cognitive decline in her hometown newspaper, and it’s widely believed she will not seek a full sixth term. Feinstein herself has been quiet on whether she’ll run or, like Stabenow, retire from office.

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One thing is for sure, though. Feinstein has said she will “absolutely” finish out her current term and would make a decision sometime in the spring about whether she’ll seek another.

“There’s still two years, you know,” she told the Los Angeles Times in December. “A lot can happen in two years.”

Dianne Feinstein, Lindsey Graham

Sen. Dianne Feinstein.
(AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

Democratic operative Ed Espinoza, a California native, told the Washington Examiner that he wasn’t sure if there would be added pressure on Feinstein to announce her retirement on the heels of Stabenow’s news but said, “I don’t know that it matters because people are going to start organizing a run no matter what she does. She’s going to be 92 and running for reelection. Robert Byrd and Strom Thurmond demonstrated that an incumbent of advanced age can be reelected, but they did it in much smaller states and did it in states with closed primaries.”

Espinoza added that Feinstein would be “running in a massive state and can’t fend off a Democratic challenger in a state” with an all-party primary that elevates the two finishers.

Another Democratic strategist in Washington, D.C., told the Washington Examiner that even though “there’s intense pressure on Sen. Feinstein to retire and to do it soon,” it will ultimately be her decision to make.

“I don’t think she cares what [her critics] want, but there’s no question it’d be easier for a lot of people’s politics if she stepped aside,” the strategist said.

Republican political consultant Nathan Calvert said the pressure on Feinstein to resign resides with Democrats.

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“Republicans are going to have a hard time saying Sen. Feinstein ‘should’ resign because she’s the same age as Sen. Grassley, who was just reelected last year,” he told the Washington Examiner. “From strictly a political perspective, Democrats would like her to run again if possible. The 2024 Senate map is already very favorable for Republicans with serious pickup opportunities in Ohio, West Virginia, Montana, and even a chance in Nevada, Arizona, Michigan, and Pennsylvania. So, the less uncertainty in candidates, the better for Democrats.”

Calvert said if Feinstein resigns, it “wouldn’t really affect the Senate map since Biden carried California by nearly 30% — but it could cause some unnecessary frustration for Democrats.”

Unlike Stabenow, whose absence creates an opening in a battleground state that will force Democrats to defend the seat aggressively, Feinstein resigning midterm would give California Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom the power to appoint her successor.

If she chooses not to run in 2024, as expected, the field widens for ambitious Democrats in the deep-blue state, with the winner likely solidifying his or her lifetime tenure.

“Just by virtue of the calendar and her age, the playbook is getting to a climax here,” one prominent California Democratic fundraiser, who requested anonymity, told Politico. “People who have interest have been talking to people about their interest.”

Among the interested is Rep. Adam Schiff.

“Look, I am getting a lot of encouragement to run for the Senate from people in California and colleagues here in Congress,” he told KTTA’s The Issue Is host Elex Michaelson. “If Sen. Feinstein retires, then I will give it very serious consideration. It’s a great responsibility, and in terms of continuing the work I’ve been doing to protect our democracy and fight for an economy that works for everyone, that would also give me a chance to try to meet those objectives for all Californians.”

Other top contenders are Reps. Katie Porter and Ro Khanna.

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Porter, 48, is a rising star in the Democratic Party and has made a name for herself skewering chief executives during oversight hearings. She is a prolific fundraiser — she has $7 million in her campaign coffer — and is an unabashed liberal.

There have been whispers in Washington that members of Sen. Bernie Sanders’s presidential campaign have encouraged Khanna to skip a Senate run and focus on a 2024 White House bid if President Joe Biden does not run again.

The Washington Examiner’s David Drucker contributed to this report.