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Sen. Dianne Feinstein returns to Capitol Hill, casts her first votes since February

The 89-year-old California Democrat said she will be working a “lighter schedule” as she resumes her duties in Washington.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., cast her first two votes on the Senate floor Wednesday afternoon after a nearly three-month absence due to health issues.

Upon her arrival on Capitol Hill, she was assisted into a wheelchair and greeted by Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y.

Feinstein told reporters that she feels "much better." She did not answer questions about why she decided to return or respond to calls from critics to resign.

The two votes were the first Feinstein had cast since Feb. 16. She missed two votes that were held earlier Wednesday before she arrived — adding to the 91 floor votes she missed while she recovered from shingles, according to an NBC News tally.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., arrives to the Capitol on May 10, 2023.
Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., arrives at the Capitol on Wednesday.Frank Thorp V / NBC News

Feinstein said in a statement Wednesday afternoon that she is back in Washington but will be working a "lighter schedule" as she resumes her duties.

“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," Feinstein said. "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."

Judiciary Committee Chairman Dick Durbin, D-Ill., told reporters Wednesday morning that he expects Feinstein to attend the committee’s business meeting at 10 a.m. Thursday. He said the committee plans to use her vote to report out to the full Senate some of President Joe Biden’s judicial nominees who have been stuck in a stalemate because of her absence. He did not indicate which nominees it would vote on.

“I’ve got to count noses and also count how they’re gonna vote,” Durbin said, “I can’t predict all will be called. I’m not sure yet.”

In remarks on the Senate floor Wednesday morning, Schumer welcomed Feinstein’s return. He said that he had been in touch with her over the past few weeks and that he can “report she’s exactly where she wants to be.”

“Ready to do the thing she loves most: serving the people of California,” Schumer said.

Feinstein’s absence has complicated Democratic efforts to confirm some of Biden’s nominees, because the Judiciary Committee went from an 11-10 majority to a 10-10 stalemate during her absence.

Image: Senator Feinstein Returns To Capitol Hill After Months-Long Absence
Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., arrives at the Capitol on Wednesday.Anna Moneymaker / Getty Images

While Senate Democrats were able to advance several of Biden's nominees with GOP backing, they have had to hold on others who fell short of bipartisan support.

Democrats had tried to temporarily replace Feinstein on the committee with Sen. Ben Cardin, D-Md., but Republicans blocked the effort, many of them saying they could not vote to make it easier for Biden to seat judicial nominees whom they found to be radical or otherwise unacceptable.

Feinstein later defended her absence and disputed the notion that it impeded the number of nominees advanced by the committee.

“There has been no slowdown,” Feinstein wrote in a statement last week. “I’m confident that when I return to the Senate, we will be able to move the remaining qualified nominees out of committee quickly and to the Senate floor for a vote.”

Feinstein, who has been in the Senate since 1992, is its oldest member, at 89 years old. She announced in February that she plans to retire from Congress at the end of 2024, after three decades in the chamber.

The 2024 primary to fill her seat is expected to be a key race. U.S. Reps. Katie Porter, Adam Schiff and Barbara Lee have announced their campaigns.