Sen. Dianne Feinstein returned to the Capitol on Wednesday to cast her first vote in the Senate since taking an extended illness-related absence that threatened Democrats’ slim majority and led to mounting calls for her resignation.
Feinstein, who at 89 is the eldest sitting senator, was brought onto the Senate floor in a wheelchair that she may at times require to travel around the Capitol as she works “a lighter schedule,” her office said in a statement. Videos on Twitter showed Feinstein emerging from a car outside the Senate building, where she was helped into the wheelchair and greeted by Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.).
Offering her most detailed description yet of her health problems since she took leave in February to be treated at a San Francisco hospital for shingles, Feinstein said in the statement that she’s made some “significant progress” but still is experiencing some side effects, including vision and balance issues.
Before Feinstein’s return to Washington on Tuesday, her team faced growing complaints from colleagues about a lack of transparency on the senator’s condition. Last week, her staff declined to give The Times a report or interview from her doctor.
For months, her absence and the lack of details on her return frustrated many Democratic lawmakers and activists, especially those concerned about the slow pace at which the Senate was confirming President Biden’s nominees for the federal judiciary.
Without Feinstein, the Judiciary Committee, which holds confirmation hearings for federal judges and advances its recommendations to the full Senate, was split evenly with 10 Democrats and 10 Republicans. The committee most recently approved a judicial nominee two weeks ago with the support of some Republicans; it will meet Thursday to consider more nominations and legislation.
“I have returned to Washington and am prepared to resume my duties in the Senate,” Feinstein said Wednesday. “The Senate faces many important issues, but the most pressing is to ensure our government doesn’t default on its financial obligations. I also look forward to resuming my work on the Judiciary Committee considering the president’s judicial nominees.
“My doctors have advised me to work a lighter schedule as I return to the Senate. I’m hopeful those issues will subside as I continue to recover,” she said, thanking her well-wishers and her team of doctors in San Francisco.
Feinstein did not provide more details on which duties could be trimmed from her schedule. Her first vote back Wednesday was to confirm a Department of Education nominee.
Feinstein was briefly hospitalized in San Francisco in February with the shingles virus and said she had hoped to be back in Washington by late March, but she remained at home in recovery. Feinstein worked while she recuperated, her spokesperson Adam Russell said at the time, but she could not cast a vote without being on the Senate floor or in committee, complicating the confirmation of Biden’s judicial and administrative nominees.
Her absence eventually led to an outcry from some corners of the Democratic Party for Feinstein to step aside, including Rep. Ro Khanna (D-Fremont) and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.).
As pressure built for her to resign, Feinstein had asked for another Democrat to temporarily be appointed to the judiciary panel in her place, but Republicans rejected that effort. She recently responded to critiques about the disruptions to the committee’s work by saying she would return to Washington, but she didn’t specify a timeline.
Feinstein has contended with questions about her health and ability to serve for several years, including concerns about whether she was up for the mental rigor of high-profile positions. She said she will not run for reelection next year but plans to fulfill her term, which ends in early 2025, then retire.
Times staff writers Melanie Mason, Benjamin Oreskes and Kwasi Gyamfi Asiedu contributed to this report.