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Senator Dianne Feinstein appears to forget long Senate absence

 May 17, 2023

During her first Senate appearance after a nearly three-month hiatus, Sen. Dianne Feinstein, 89, raised eyebrows by asserting she had been in Congress throughout her absence.

In a statement that left many puzzled, Feinstein told reporters, "I've been here. I've been voting," triggering questions about her health and ability to perform her duties effectively.

The California senator's extended absence was due to a bout of shingles, after which she returned last week, reportedly under a doctor's orders to maintain a lighter workload, the Daily Times reported. However, her recent appearance and statements have led to increasing calls for her resignation, with some suggesting that her ability to serve may be compromised.

Since her return, Feinstein has made two voting appearances and attended committee hearings. However, last Wednesday marked her first presence at the U.S. Capitol since she left in February.

Feinstein Denies Extended Absence Amid Health Concerns

When asked about her well-being, Feinstein responded, "I'm feeling fine. I have a problem with the leg." Since her return, Feinstein has been using a wheelchair, further fueling concerns about her health.

In response to a question about her colleagues' reaction to her return, Feinstein gave an unexpected answer, insisting that she had not been away at all. When asked if she had been working from home, she replied, "No, I've been here. I've been voting. Please. You either know or don’t know,” NewYork Post reported.

While Feinstein's recent behavior has been causing concern, a similar situation unfolded with Pennsylvania's Democratic Sen. John Fetterman, who also sparked worries over a faltering speech during a hearing about Silicon Valley Bank's collapse.

Feinstein's Health Sparks Concern Among Colleagues

Feinstein's physical and mental capacity has reportedly declined over recent years, and her recent appearance, where she seemed to forget her extended absence, has heightened concerns. This has led to speculation about her ability to continue contributing effectively to the Senate.

When Connecticut Sen. Richard Blumenthal was asked about Feinstein's capacity to return to her former contribution level, he said, "There's one job that no one else can do for us, which is to vote. And she's been doing that job in the last few days, and so far as I can tell, she's been doing well."

However, Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse reserved judgment, stating, "I'm gonna leave that to the medics."

Feinstein's Shingles Recovery: A Return to the Senate

Last week, Feinstein arrived at the Senate after traveling from California, where she had been recuperating at her San Francisco home. Despite her return, she indicated that she continues to experience some side effects from the shingles virus, stating, "My doctors have advised me to work a lighter schedule as I return to the Senate."

Feinstein made her return to the Senate Judiciary Committee late last Thursday, entering nearly 90 minutes after some judicial nominees had already been voted on. Despite her tardiness, she received a standing ovation from her fellow Republicans and Democrats on the panel.

Feinstein's Senate Participation

Feinstein's recent health issues and ongoing recovery have raised concerns among her colleagues and constituents.

Feinstein has been present to vote for the advancement of three of President Joe Biden's nominees despite the controversy surrounding her health and recent absence. Nevertheless, she has faced criticism from members of her party for her prolonged absence, which delayed the confirmation of some judges.

Speculation Surrounds Feinstein's Potential Resignation and Successor

Feinstein has already announced that she will not run for re-election in 2024. Several Democrats, including Reps. Barbara Lee, Adam Schiff, and Katie Porter are vying for the Senate seat Feinstein has held for 30 years.

However, if Feinstein were to resign before her term ends, California Gov. Gavin Newsom would have to appoint a replacement, potentially disrupting the race to succeed her. Newsom has previously stated he would appoint a Black woman to the position. Rep. Lee, a Black woman, is among the top contenders.

Meanwhile, Rep. Ro Khanna, who has been leading the most recent calls for Feinstein's resignation, has endorsed Lee in the primary to replace Feinstein. California's primary system allows the top two vote-getters, regardless of party, to advance to the general election, meaning two Democrats could face off in the November 2024 election.