Feinstein’s position prompts concern that she will not return to the Senate

Three people who have visited the senator or been briefed on her condition in recent weeks say her diagnosis has taken a toll on her. Other confidants, including two who have seen or spoken to the senator, underscored that they are still confident he can serve the roughly two years remaining in his term. But neither of the men, who spoke on condition of anonymity on the sensitive matter, indicated they believed he could do so from Washington.

Indeed, aides and confidants have not yet given a firm timeline for his return to the chamber where Democrats have missed his votes. Feinstein’s own spokesman, Adam Russell, said there was no update on her expected date to return to Washington, although at least one aide of the senator said she was “making good progress in her recovery.”

Feinstein’s absence has forced her party to change how it runs the Senate, where Democrats can’t move President Joe Biden’s judicial picks without her vote. And in California, the race to succeed Feinstein is tight thanks to uncertainty about her future — and continued chatter about whether Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom will be forced to upset the race by appointing her successor.

The senator, who won his first seat on the Senate Judiciary Committee in 2020, has been an iconic presence in the party amid speculation about his mental acuity, keeping quiet about his position. His staff has been reluctant to discuss his health, even with other members of the California delegation, according to six Democrats familiar with the conversations.

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It’s a delicate move, made even tougher by Senate Democrats’ 51-vote majority. Speculation about Feinstein’s future follows the recent departure of her chief of staff, David Granis, to a new role at the Commission on National Security Strategy. James Sauls, a longtime aide to the Senate Intelligence Committee, has stepped into the role of chief of staff, according to Russell.

Her illness has prevented Feinstein from voting in the Judiciary Committee to confirm Biden’s nominees to the federal bench, effectively halting those confirmations for now, a move that has also been felt on the Senate floor. The California Democrat missed nearly 60 votes after her shingles diagnosis in mid-February.

That long absence left Democrats with a 51-49 majority in the chamber, Sen. John Fetterman (D-Pa.) has been out of treatment for depression for weeks.

Vice President Kamala Harris has cut several ties to confirm judicial nominees to the court, but her absence has delayed committee action on several nominations. There are currently 14 pending judicial nominations that have had hearings but have not been voted on by the panel.

“I’m curious because I can’t have a markup of new justice nominees until he’s there,” Chen said. Dick Turbin (D-Ill.), the party’s no. 2 and Senate Judiciary Committee chairman told POLITICO late last month.

Durbin took the top Democratic seat on the panel in late 2020, and Feinstein later courted the GOP — and then-Supreme Court nominee Amy Coney Barrett — after liberal outrage.

Since then, Feinstein has come under pressure from some fellow Democrats to end her floor career on her own terms. Just this week, liberals resumed their clamor for her to step down; Representative Jamal Bowman (DN.Y.) retweeted a post calling for Feinstein to retire, though it’s unclear whether the move endorsed that position. On Wednesday, shortly after this item was posted, So did Representative Ro Khanna of California.

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The longest-serving woman in Senate history said in February she would not seek another term but vowed to finish her current term.

Days after that announcement, Shingles sidelined Feinstein.

With House Democratic representatives, the race to replace California political giants is already crowded. Adam Schiff, Kate Porter And Barbara Lee Struggle for more than 30 years of vacant space. Complicating their growing rivalry is Newsom’s 2021 commitment to nominate a black woman to the Senate if Feinstein resigns.

If he keeps that promise, it will put a finger on Lee — who, if appointed to serve out the remainder of Feinstein’s term, could run for a full term with the benefit of next year’s term.

California is one of 36 states, however, that could not coordinate a Senate election with a primary if a caucus takes place too close to March 2024, experts said.

Nicholas Wu, Sarah Ferris and Daniel Diaz contributed to this report.

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