After attention fell this week on the impacts of her extended absence on votes on judicial nominees before the Senate, Senator Dianne Feinstein said she had asked Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer to temporarily fill her seat on the Judiciary Committee with another Democrat.
Feinstein, who will turn 90 in June, has been absent from the Senate since early March recovering from a case of shingles. She has been at her home in San Francisco for most of that time. The Senate is currently in recess until next week.
"I understand that my absence could delay the important work of the Judiciary Committee, so I’ve asked Leader Schumer to ask the Senate to allow another Democratic senator to temporarily serve until I’m able to resume my committee work," Feinstein said in a statement Wednesday.
Feinstein said further that she had expected to be back in the Senate "by the end of the March work period," but she said her return had been "delayed due to continued complications related to my diagnosis."
Still she says, she will be back at work in Washington "as soon as possible once my medical team advises that it’s safe for me to travel."
The Chronicle reported on Monday that Feinstein had missed 58 Senate votes during her extended absence, and combined with the absence of Senator John Fetterman of Pennsylvania — who is being treated for depression — the slim Democratic majority in the Senate has needed Vice President Kamala Harris to cast tie-breaking votes several times.
Simultaneously, votes on judicial nominees have been stymied in the Judicial Committee because without Feinstein, the committee is split evenly between Republicans and Democrats — and a tie vote is basically a losing vote.
"I’m anxious, because I can’t really have a markup of new judge nominees until she’s there," said Judiciary Committee Chair Senator Richard J. Durbin, speaking to Politico last month.
This latest dustup about Feinstein's effectiveness in the Senate follows an extended one last year relating to reports about a decline in her cognitive abilities. Still, Feinstein said she had no intention of stepping down before her current term is up, and in February she confirmed that she intends to retire after the 2024 election. And supporters have come to her defense and said that many elderly male senators have been allowed to keep their jobs despite similar issues relating to aging.
Calls intensified this week for Feinstein to resign and retire early — a move that would allow Governor Gavin Newsom to appoint her replacement. The calculation of Rep. Ro Khanna, who openly called for Feinstein's resignation this week — a fairly rare move from a fellow member of the same party in Congress — may be that his chosen candidate for replacing Feinstein, Rep. Barbara Lee, could have a better shot as an incumbent in next year's election. But there's no guarantee that Lee would be Newsom's pick.
House Reps Katie Porter and Adam Schiff have also announced their candidacies for Feinstein's seat — with Porter doing so weeks before Feinstein announced her intention to retire.
Top image: Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) leaves the Senate Chamber following a vote in the U.S. Capitol on February 14, 2023 in Washington, DC. Feinstein announced Tuesday that she will not seek re-election in 2024. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)