The nation’s oldest U.S. senator looks like she’s sticking around.
California’s Dianne Feinstein turns 84 on Thursday and is displaying signs that she’s headed for a re-election campaign, not a retirement party.
While the Democrat has been coy when asked about seeking a fifth full term next year, her political committee, unambiguously titled Feinstein for Senate 2018, raised more than $650,000 in the first three months of this year in a cue she is looking ahead.
Feinstein plays a marquee role for Democrats on Capitol Hill, where she has queried Attorney General Jeff Sessions and former FBI Director James Comey about their interactions with President Donald Trump, amid probes tied to Russian influence and the 2016 presidential campaign.
On Friday, she warned that Trump might attempt to fire Robert Mueller, the special counsel investigating possible obstruction of justice. “The message the president is sending through his tweets is that he believes the rule of law doesn’t apply to him,” she said.
She’s the ranking Democrat on the Judiciary Committee, which is investigating the circumstances behind Trump’s dismissal of Comey. She also sits on the Intelligence Committee, which is conducting an inquiry into Russia’s election meddling and whether there was any collusion between Russia and Trump’s campaign.
With another term in Washington, Feinstein could be in the Senate into her 90s.
Questions about her age circulated in 2012, when at 78 she was easily re-elected over token Republican opposition. She had a pacemaker installed in January, and a voter survey earlier this year suggested her support could be dinged by her advancing years.
But even in youth-obsessed California, where about four in 10 people are under 30, Feinstein’s age didn’t concern Los Angeles screenwriter Marie Stone, providing the senator remains in good health. Stone said she likes the balance between Feinstein’s long experience and the baby-boom pedigree of Sen. Kamala Harris, the state’s junior senator who is a comparatively youthful 52.
“As long as she’s standing up and defending California’s rights, that’s what’s important,” said Stone, a Democrat.
Former Los Angeles County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky’s political committee recently wrote a $1,000 check to Feinstein’s campaign. “I’ve encouraged her” to run, he said in an email.
A former San Francisco mayor, Feinstein has long been among California’s most popular political figures, and she would be a strong favorite to keep the seat in a state where Democrats hold every statewide office and control both chambers of the Legislature by hefty margins.
But her centrist credentials and lack of enthusiasm for universal health care have made the grande dame of state Democrats a target within the party’s restless liberal wing.
She’s had protesters outside her home, and has been criticized by some for appearing too temperate in remarks about Trump’s White House.
After Trump fired Comey, her initial statement said, “The next FBI director must be strong and independent and will receive a fair hearing in the Judiciary Committee.” Within a day, she changed course and was questioning if Comey was fired to stifle the FBI’s Russia investigation.
The break between the party’s establishment and liberal branches played out during last year’s Democratic presidential primary. And at a state Democratic convention this year, liberals inspired by Bernie Sanders nearly captured the party’s top job.
“The split is obviously between the new breed and the old guard. It’s not likely to heal if Dianne Feinstein runs for re-election,” said Michael Thaller, who heads the state party’s Progressive Caucus.
For many liberals, “it’s time to get some new blood in there – some new, more progressive blood,” he added.
Feinstein is quick to defend her record, and she has deep credentials on issues that drive the left-leaning state electorate, including environmental protection and reproductive rights.
Her role on Senate committees has given her an important perch in a state that is at the center of the so-called Trump resistance – Hillary Clinton carried California by over 4 million votes in the general election.
She’s a regular on the Sunday TV political circuit and has made frequent use of Twitter. “Release the tapes, Mr. President! What are you afraid of?” she tweeted on June 11, referring to the possibility that the president’s conversations with Comey were recorded at the White House. She has called Trump’s decision to withdraw from a global climate agreement “shameful, disastrous.”
Veteran Democratic consultant Roger Salazar noted Feinstein was back on the job shortly after the pacemaker procedure. “That’s the signal of somebody who isn’t going off into the sunset,” he said.
Feinstein’s political roots go back to the Vietnam era, long before millions of younger voters were born. Over half of new voter registrations through October were millennials – younger people who tend to be more liberal than older Californians.
Computer consultant Manuel Moreno said her age shouldn’t be a concern. The 67-year-old Los Angeles Democrat doesn’t always agree with Feinstein – he said she drifts “to the right of my political views.”
But Moreno credited her with sharp questioning of Sessions and Comey in Senate hearings.
“I wasn’t disappointed,” he said.