Hillary Clinton: Dianne Feinstein Shouldn’t Retire

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Secretary Hillary Clinton defended her friend and former colleague Senator Dianne Feinstein, whose advanced age and failing health have prompted calls for her to resign from the Senate, saying that Feinstein’s resignation would not be “worth the tradeoff” when it comes to judicial appointments.

In a wide-ranging interview Monday at the Chicago Humanities Festival, I asked the former Secretary of State why so many of her fellow Democrats were staying in office well into their 80s, even as the party has strengthened its bench of young talent. I specifically asked about Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who refused to retire under a Democratic president and whose death at age 87 in September 2020 gave President Donald Trump a third Supreme Court appointment, and Feinstein, age 89, whose absence from the Senate for months has prompted questions about her fitness to serve. Clinton said she had a “very negative response” to my question.

“Let me say a word about my friend and longtime colleague Dianne Feinstein,” she continued. “First of all, she has suffered greatly from the bout of shingles and encephalitis that she endured. Here is the dilemma for her: she got reelected, the people of California voted for her again, not very long ago. That was the voters’ decision to vote for her, and she has been a remarkable and very effective leader.”

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“Here’s the dilemma: the Republicans will not agree to add someone else to the Judiciary Committee if she retires,” she continued, referencing Feinstein’s powerful committee membership. (When Feinstein was absent from the Senate for nearly three months this year recovering from health issues, it created a logjam on the narrowly divided Judiciary Committee, since Democrats were unable to confirm President Joe Biden’s judicial nominees without Republican support.) “I want you to think about how crummy that is. I don’t know in her heart about whether she really would or wouldn’t, but right now, she can’t. Because if we’re going to get judges confirmed, which is one of the most important continuing obligations that we have, then we cannot afford to have her seat vacant.”

“If Republicans were to say and do the decent thing and say, well this woman was gravely ill, she had just lost her husband to cancer… of course we will let you fill this position if she retires. But they won’t say that,” she continued. “So what are we supposed to do? All these people pushing her to retire: fine, we get no more judges? I don’t think that’s a good tradeoff.”

Read More: Why Dianne Feinstein Shouldn’t Quit

When I asked her again about the broader question of whether Democrats have allowed their leadership to get too old, she pushed back. “I do not believe in broad questions about age,” Clinton, age 75, said, adding that she also didn’t believe in term limits. “If you don’t want to vote for somebody, don’t vote for them. But don’t impose some artificial check on the voters. I don’t buy this whole debate. And frankly, a lot of the people pushing it, I don’t understand what their real agenda is, because part of it is a bank shot against Joe Biden. And I think Joe Biden has done a very good job.”

The comments came shortly after Clinton appeared at the Financial Times Weekend Festival in Washington D.C., where she was asked about the moment Biden, age 80, almost fell during the G-7 summit in Japan. There, she acknowledged his age could be an issue in the election. “Well, I mean, it’s a concern for anyone. And we’ve had presidents who’ve fallen before who are a lot younger, and people didn’t go into heart palpitations,” Clinton responded. “But his age is an issue. And people have every right to consider it.”

At the Chicago Humanities Festival, Clinton did not mince words when she spoke about former President Donald Trump, age 76, currently running for president again in 2024. “You have to think of him not as a former president or even as a presidential candidate so much as a cult leader,” she said. “He has a hold on a significant portion of the Republican Party.”

“He will most likely be the Republican nominee again,” she continued. “And be defeated by Joe Biden again.”

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Write to Charlotte Alter at charlotte.alter@time.com