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Sen. Dianne Feinstein told to 'just say aye' in awkward Senate committee moment

Feinstein, 90, began delivering a speech in support of a bill during a vote Thursday, instead of the expected response of "aye" or "nay."
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Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., appeared confused during a vote on a defense appropriations bill Thursday, prompting a fellow Democratic senator to step in.

During a Senate Appropriations Committee markup of bills Thursday morning, Feinstein seemed to stumble on a vote. Instead of saying the expected response of “aye” or “nay,” she began to deliver a speech expressing her support of the measure: “I would like to support a ‘yes’ vote on this. It provides $823 billion ...”

About 15 seconds into Feinstein’s speech, an aide whispered in her ear. Committee chair Patty Murray, D-Wash., then told Feinstein: “Just say aye.”

“Aye,” Feinstein said.

Feinstein, 90, was later heard voting against another measure before she was corrected and switched to “yes.”

A Feinstein spokesperson said Thursday's markup "was a little chaotic" as members work to wrap up government funding bills before they leave for a six-week break, with senators "constantly switching back and forth between statements, votes and debate and the order of bills."

"The senator was preoccupied, didn’t realize debate had just ended and a vote was called," the spokesperson continued. "She started to give a statement, was informed it was a vote and then cast her vote."

Last year, Feinstein pushed back against a news report citing multiple anonymous lawmakers who questioned her mental fitness to continue serving. She was absent from Washington for months this year because of a severe case of shingles. She repeatedly appeared to struggle to answer questions from reporters, and at one point Senate officials protected her from journalists trying to take pictures and video of her.

Feinstein faced calls to resign from her Democratic colleagues during her lengthy absence, which complicated their efforts to confirm some of President Joe Biden’s nominees, given her key vote on the Judiciary Committee. The panel went from an 11-10 majority to a 10-10 stalemate during her absence.

Democrats tried to replace Feinstein on the committee temporarily 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 returned to the Senate floor in May after having missed 91 floor votes while she recovered from shingles, according to an NBC News tally.

Feinstein, who was first elected to the Senate in 1992, is the chamber’s oldest member. She has said she plans to retire from Congress at the end of 2024, after three decades in the Senate.

After she returned to the Senate in May, NBC News and other news outlets reported that Feinstein had experienced more complications than had been publicly disclosed. In addition to shingles, Feinstein also suffered from Ramsay Hunt syndrome, which occurred when shingles spread to her head and neck, and a case of encephalitis, which is swelling of the brain, a person familiar with her situation said at the time.

CORRECTION (July 27, 2023, 3:25 p.m. ET): A previous version of this article misstated Sen. Dianne Feinstein’s age. She is 90, not 89.