Feinstein says she won't step down early from Senate

WASHINGTON, DC - JUNE 08: Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) makes her way through the Senate Subway on Capitol Hill on Wednesday, June 8, 2022 in Washington, DC. (Kent Nishimura / Los Angeles Times)
Some of U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein's colleagues have expressed interest in her seat, even as she has announced no plans to vacate it. "That's the way it is here," said Feinstein (D-Calif.). "You just take it as it comes." (Kent Nishimura / Los Angeles Times)

Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) said Monday she has every intention of serving the remainder of her Senate term and is still deliberating whether to retire in 2024.

The latest comments from California's senior senator echo what she has previously said on the topic. But coming with just two years left on her term, they may finally close the door on any lingering speculation that she would step down earlier and allow Gov. Gavin Newsom to appoint a temporary replacement.

At 89, Feinstein is the oldest sitting senator, and in recent years concerns have grown that she may no longer have the stamina and mental sharpness for the job.

In a brief interview Monday evening, Feinstein said she was committed and looking forward to finishing this term.

"Yes. Absolutely," she said. "There's still two years, you know. A lot can happen in two years."

Feinstein added that a decision on whether she will run again in 2024 will come "probably by spring."

A spokesman followed up with a statement shortly after: "The senator has no plans to step down and will announce her plans for 2024 at the appropriate time."

Feinstein never suggested she might leave her seat early, but pressure from many in her own party grew steadily after her 2018 reelection.

Progressives successfully pushed Feinstein to give up her chance to chair the Senate Judiciary Committee when Democrats took control of the chamber in 2020. They said they feared she may not be aggressive enough for an increasingly partisan Congress.

During the 2021 recall campaign against Newsom, pressure on Feinstein intensified out of concern he could be replaced by a Republican, who then would have the power to fill any Senate openings that might arise.

Newsom even publicly vowed to fill Feinstein's seat with a Black woman should she step down. The next day he quickly clarified that he had no reason to expect her early retirement. The recall effort failed.

Finishing her term will likely create a more even playing field should Feinstein opt against running again in 2024 and the race begins to fill the coveted seat. Anyone appointed to the seat would enjoy an advantage in 2024.

Feinstein shrugged off reports Monday that some California Democrats in the House are already privately taking steps to run for her seat.

Politico last week reported Reps. Ro Khanna (D-Fremont), Katie Porter (D-Irvine), Adam B. Schiff (D-Burbank) and Barbara Lee (D-Oakland) as potential Senate hopefuls, noting that three possible contenders have sought advice from former Sen. Barbara Boxer.

"That's the way it is here," Feinstein said. "You just take it as it comes, and you can't predict what it's going to be next. That's the way it is."

With former Rep. Karen Bass (D-Los Angeles) becoming mayor of Los Angeles this week, Lee was seen as a front-runner candidate for a Senate appointment should Feinstein have vacated her seat early.

A pair of allies of Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) have privately encouraged Khanna to seek the presidency, so it's unclear whether he would enter what's expected to be an expensive open Senate race.

Porter won reelection in her battleground district by 3 percentage points. She reported raising more than $25 million for her campaign and has $7.7 million left over.

Schiff may lose his membership on the House Intelligence Committee when a Republican majority takes over in January, and he won't be a member of House Democratic leadership, making him a likely entrant in the Senate race.

He raised nearly $23 million for his campaign this cycle, which he won by 42 percentage points. He reported having $20.6 million in his campaign coffers.

Feinstein has been in the Senate since winning a special election in 1992. Over the span of three decades, she has served as the state's senior senator alongside Boxer, Kamala Harris and now, Sen. Alex Padilla.

Padilla won reelection in November after being appointed by Newsom in 2021 to succeed Harris, who is now vice president.

This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.