Senator Dianne Feinstein Hospitalized with Shingles, Absences Impacting Confirmations of Biden’s Nominees
California Senator Dianne Feinstein, the oldest sitting senator in the United States, is currently hospitalized and receiving treatment for shingles. The 89-year-old announced last month that she would not be seeking re-election in 2024 after more than three decades in the Senate.
Shingles is an infection of the nerves caused by a reactivated chicken pox virus that can result in a painful, scaly rash, typically on one side of the body. Feinstein has been in California since late February, missing a dozen votes and two committee hearings since she began feeling ill. She is expected to make a full recovery and hopes to return to the Senate later this month.
The extended absence of Feinstein, as well as Pennsylvania Senator John Fetterman, who is being treated for depression, has temporarily eliminated the Senate’s Democratic majority. This has given Republicans an easier time sending legislation to the president's desk and has complicated the Democrats' ability to confirm Joe Biden's nominees.
Feinstein, who has been active in California politics for more than 50 years, is a former San Francisco mayor who was first elected to the Senate in 1992. After her announcement not to seek reelection, several California House members including Reps. Katie Porter, Adam Schiff and Barbara Lee have thrown their hat in the ring to try and win the veteran senator’s seat.
The most immediate consequence of the absences will be making it more difficult to finish the process of confirming President Joe Biden's court nominees. Vice President Kamala Harris has had to break two Senate ties for court nominees this week, and her tie-breaking vote will remain crucial until the return of Feinstein or Fetterman. Senator Feinstein is a member of four Senate committees, having conducted twelve public and six private hearings in the current year. She has gone to nine out of the eighteen hearings.
White House deputy press secretary Olivia Dalton has declined to comment on whether the administration is concerned whether absences among Democratic senators could derail the confirmation of Julie Su, Biden’s nominee to run the Labor Department. Even once Merkley and Crapo return, the balance in the Senate will be 49-49, and the absences could have implications outside of judicial nominations.
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