Cognition and memory of Sen. Feinstein diminished, confused by VP Harris casting tie-breaking votes in Senate

 May 30, 2023

Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) recently returned to the Senate following a prolonged absence due to illness and it has become increasingly obvious that the once powerful and prominent politician is now a diminished shell of her former self.

That latest example is a reported moment of confusion as to why Vice President Kamala Harris was in the Senate chamber to cast a tie-breaking vote, according to Fox News.

That reported confusion and forgetfulness, which occurred last year and predated her more recent decline in health, is concerning for a number of reasons, including that Harris was a fellow California senator before becoming the vice president in 2021 and that casting a tie-breaking vote is one of the only real duties for a vice president, which is something that Harris has done dozens of times in the closely divided legislative body.

Confusion about VP Harris casting tie-breaking votes

The episode of confusion about VP Harris casting a tie-breaking vote was included in a recent report from the New York Times about how Sen. Feinstein, 89, has come to rely heavily upon her staffers and aides for an extraordinary level of support since her return to the Senate following a nearly three-month absence as she dealt with and recovered from the shingles virus and related serious complications.

That assistance is said to be well above and beyond what any other senators require from their own staff and involves pushing her around the Capitol in a wheelchair, fending off inquisitive reporters, instructing her on when and how to vote on bills and nominations, and attempting to explain things to her when she becomes confused -- which was a growing problem even before her recent debilitating health issues.

The Times reported, "When Vice President Kamala Harris was presiding over the chamber last year in one of many instances in which she was called upon to cast a tiebreaking vote, Ms. Feinstein expressed confusion, according to a person who witnessed the scene, asking her colleagues, 'What is she doing here?' Staff members have been overheard explaining to her that she cannot leave yet because there are more votes to come."

Being protected from press by staffers, Capitol Police, Senate Sergeant at Arms

The Times also referenced a report last week from the Los Angeles Times about how overly protective Sen. Feinstein's staffers and aides have become since her return to the Capitol, going to great lengths to try and hide her away from journalists' questions and photographers' cameras.

That includes taking full advantage of the many "hideaways, tunnels, subways, staircases and doors" in the Capitol complex to completely avoid the media, and when that isn't possible, strictly limiting her interactions and forming "a human barrier between her and the press corps, with one staffer pushing her wheelchair while others shout at photographers to move out of the way."

Chief among that contingent is the eldest daughter of former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), Nancy Corinne Prowda, a close friend and advisor who has taken on the role of caretaker and now "runs interference and shields the senator from reporters, sometimes placing herself between them."

That report also noted that it strongly appears that the Senate Sergeant at Arms and Capitol Police have also been enlisted in the protective detail surrounding the elderly senator, as the SSA has taken "unprecedented" steps, with help from Capitol Police officers, to block media access to the senator while coming and going from the Capitol complex or moving about within the building.

Other recent examples of confusion and forgetfulness

The recent report from The New York Times also revealed another moment of forgetfulness for Sen. Feinstein in which she told a CNN reporter that she had only missed a short amount of time from work while recovering from a "bad flu" -- which obviously isn't the case.

In fact, according to the Associated Press, in addition to a bad case of shingles diagnosed in February, Feinstein missed nearly three months due to complications during her recovery from Ramsay Hunt syndrome, which involves partial paralysis of the face, and encephalitis, swelling of the brain that can cause long-lasting brain damage and symptoms like "personality changes, seizures, stiffness, confusion and problems with sight or hearing," among other things.

Another example of Feinstein's confusion and forgetfulness, shared by left-leaning Slate shortly after her return to the Senate, was her adamant denial that she'd even been gone, as she dismissed a question about the greetings from colleagues she'd received upon her return and insisted, "I haven’t been gone. I’ve been working."

When pressed if she meant that she'd been working from home, an audibly annoyed Feinstein fired back, "No, I’ve been here. I’ve been voting. Please. You either know or don’t know."

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