A visibly weak and wheelchair-bound Sen. Feinstein returns to Capitol following prolonged absence

May 13, 2023

Following a diagnosis of shingles in late February, Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) took an extended leave of absence from the Senate while she was briefly hospitalized and then recovered from home in San Francisco.

After being gone for more than two months, Sen. Feinstein finally returned to work at the Senate on Wednesday, albeit in an obviously weakened and apparently confused condition, the Daily Caller reported.

Her return -- or, in the alternative, her immediate resignation and replacement by an appointee -- had been demanded by some Democrats and activists in light of the difficulties her prolonged absence had created for them in terms of accomplishing their agenda, given the party's slim 51-49 majority in the Senate and her critical seat on the evenly-split Judiciary Committee.

Weak, trembling, unsteady, and wheelchair-bound

The Huffington Post reported that Sen. Feinstein actually returned to Washington D.C. on Tuesday but was unable to make it to the Senate building until Wednesday afternoon, where she was greeted and received by Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and a group of reporters.

That report noted that the 89-year-old senator was visibly weak and unsteady as she slowly got out of her car and was helped by aides into a wheelchair. Her hand was also noticeably trembling and she was overheard complaining about having "something in my eye," while her one eye that was open was visibly bloodshot.

Aside from telling the gathered reporters that she felt "much better," Feinstein said little else and either ignored or didn't hear numerous shouted questions as she was rolled into the building by an aide with Schumer by her side.

Feinstein's statement about her return

Sen. Feinstein's office on Wednesday released a statement from the senator about her return in which she said, "I have returned to Washington and am prepared to resume my duties in the Senate. I’m grateful for all the well-wishes over the past couple of months and for the excellent care that I received from my medical team in San Francisco."

"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," she continued.

The senator added, "Even though I’ve made significant progress and was able to return to Washington, I’m still experiencing some side effects from the shingles virus. 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."

According to the press release, the side effects referenced by Feinstein include "vision and balance impairments," and in addition to the "lighter schedule" of work advised by doctors, the release further noted that the senator "may also at times require the use of a wheelchair to travel around the Capitol."

Judiciary Committee wastes little time in getting back to business

As noted by the Daily Caller, HuffPost, and Sen. Feinstein herself, arguably the biggest motivating factor in her return to the Senate at this point has been the months-long delay on confirmation in the Judiciary Committee for some of the more partisan and controversial judicial nominees put forward by President Biden who were incapable of garnering any support from Republicans.

According to CNN, the Judiciary Committee wasted little time in attempting to make up for Feinstein's lengthy absence by pushing through confirmation votes on six of Biden's nominees, three of whom were cleared along party-line votes that required Feinstein's presence, while the other three were able to get the support of a few Republican members.

The Daily Caller noted that Feinstein appears to have missed at least 91 floor votes during her absence, and there had been growing demands among progressive activists and even some members of Congress -- including Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) and Ro Khanna (D-CA) -- for her to either swiftly return to work or resign and be replaced by somebody who was capable of performing the job.

Earlier in the year, before her absence, Feinstein had announced that she will not seek re-election in 2024, but according to a mid-April report from Politico, there are very real concerns among some who are familiar with her situation that she may not be able to fully serve out the remainder of her term that ends in January 2025.

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