Sen. Dianne Feinstein has been recovering at home after a stint in the hospital due to shingles in early March.
Feinstein's absence from Washington D.C., and her role on the Senate Judiciary Committee has played a role slowing down the confirmation process for judicial nominees. In addition to Feinstein's absence, her fellow Democratic colleague Sen. Dick Durbin, of Illinois, was also out of the office for several weeks after contracting the coronavirus. Durbin and Feinstein's medical conditions caused the committee to cancel meetings and postpone votes on at least 10 nominees.
The Biden Administration has had more than 100 federal judges confirmed by the beginning of this year, with a goal of reaching 200 by the end of his term. The absences of Feinstein and Durbin — and a process known as "blue slipping," which allows senators from the home state of the nominee to block a confirmation — has caused the process to stall. Most of the judicial vacancies that are left to fill are in Republican states.
"Senator Feinstein's absence matters with respect to, not only the approval of judges but also the administration of justice, and that's why it's very important from the Democrats' perspective that all of the Democrats be available to advance these nominees," Dan Eaton, a legal analyst, told NBC 7 on Wednesday.
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Feinstein, who is 89 years old and the oldest member of Congress right now, announced earlier this year that she will not be seeking a seventh term. Her absence from Washington at this time has caused some to call for her resignation.
"If Dianne Feinstein resigns, Gavin Newsom gets to appoint the next senator just like he appointed the other senator, just like he appointed the attorney general and the secretary of state in California," said professor of political science from UCSD Thad Kousser. "We haven’t had an openly contested race for any of these statewide offices for years, and if Gavin Newsom gets yet another 'pick and choose' opportunity to populate who's representing Californians, I think the cause of democracy in California loses."
Feinstein has also missed 60 of the 82 Senate votes taken in 2023. Democrats have a razor-thin 51-49 majority in the Senate. Feinstein's absence has coincided with Democratic Sen. John Fetterman's leave of absence, which has caused Vice President Kamala Harris to cast three tie-breaking votes to pass legislation, according to the San Francisco Chronicle.
The Senate has been in recess since March 31 and will return to session on April 17. It is unclear if Feinstein will return to Washington on that date.
A number of candidates have launched campaigns to be California's next senator, including House Democrats Barbara Lee, Katie Porter and Adam Schiff Lee. In addition a Republican candidate, Eric Early, an attorney announced his candidacy.
After this article was published, Feinstein's office sent out the following statement:
“When I was first diagnosed with shingles, I expected to return by the end of the March work period. Unfortunately, my return to Washington has been delayed due to continued complications related to my diagnosis.
“I intend to return as soon as possible once my medical team advises that it’s safe for me to travel. In the meantime, I remain committed to the job and will continue to work from home in San Francisco.
“I understand that my absence could delay the important work of the Judiciary Committee, so I’ve asked Leader Schumer to ask the Senate to allow another Democratic senator to temporarily serve until I’m able to resume my committee work.”