US Senator Diane Feinstein returns to DC after resignation calls

·3 min read
Dianne Feinstein returns to the US Capitol after a nearly three-month absence
Dianne Feinstein returns to the US Capitol after a nearly three-month absence

US Senator Dianne Feinstein has returned to Washington after nearly three months of absence led to calls from within her own party to resign.

The 89-year-old California Democrat was in hospital after being diagnosed with shingles in late February and has been recovering at home in San Francisco.

Critics claimed her absence was complicating efforts by Democrats in the Senate to nominate federal judges.

Ms Feinstein said she plans to resume her duties on "a lighter schedule".

"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," she wrote in a statement on Wednesday.

"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."

Footage shows the lawmaker returning to the US Capitol complex in a wheelchair, her hand visibly trembling as she tells Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer she is feeling "much better".

According to her office, Ms Feinstein has had impaired vision and balance since her illness, and may "at times require the use of a wheelchair to travel around the Capitol".

The San Francisco Chronicle first reported the news of Ms Feinstein's return, and her office confirmed to the BBC later that she was flying from California to Washington DC on Tuesday.

She did not attend votes scheduled for Tuesday night or a round of votes scheduled earlier on Wednesday but did cast a vote on Wednesday afternoon.

Ms Feinstein is the oldest US senator and has faced questions in recent years about her health.

Her office has long maintained that she is able to carry out her duties. Ms Feinstein has already said she will not seek re-election in 2024.

But her fitness came once again under scrutiny after she was diagnosed with the shingles virus. The illness, which causes painful rashes, can be serious for seniors.

After a brief time in hospital, Ms Feinstein continued to recover and work at home in San Francisco.

Her absence caused headaches for Senate Democrats back in Washington, who hold a narrow one-seat majority in the US Senate and on the powerful Senate Judiciary Committee, where Ms Feinstein serves.

Democrats have worried that Ms Feinstein's absence from the judiciary committee would complicate their ability to confirm federal judges, one of the few priorities they can accomplish with a divided Congress.

The party is eager to install liberal-leaning justices to the lifetime posts after Republicans sought to remake the federal judiciary under former President Donald Trump.

Ms Feinstein has maintained her inability to vote did not hamper her party's ability to confirm federal judges.

"The Senate continues to swiftly confirm highly qualified individuals to the federal judiciary, including seven more judicial nominees who were confirmed this week," she said in a 4 May statement.

"There has been no slowdown."

Progressive Democrats began calling for her to resign in mid-April after Republicans refused Ms Feinstein's request to temporarily replace her on the judiciary committee and Mr Schumer declined to provide a timeline for her return.

Reps Ro Khanna, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, and Rashida Tlaib, all Democrats, have called on Ms Feinstein to step down before her term ends so Democrats could pass their legislative priorities.

While Ms Feinstein has faced calls to resign before, this latest round of demands "does feel different, because she's missing these votes and the Senate is so closely divided," Eric Schickler, co-director of the Institute of Governmental Studies at the University of California, Berkeley, told the BBC last month.

A high-profile race to replace Ms Feinstein is already underway in California. Representatives Adam Schiff, Barbara Lee, and Katie Porter are all vying for the a once-in-a-lifetime seat.

Should Ms Feinstein not finish her term for any reason, California Governor Gavin Newsom would appoint her replacement.

Ms Feinstein, however, has given no indication she plans to step down early.