Ailing Sen. Dianne Feinstein returns to Senate after long illness

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Ailing Sen. Dianne Feinstein returned to the Senate in a wheelchair Wednesday, ending a 10-week absence that delayed President Biden’s push to confirm new federal judges sparked rising calls for her resignation.

Defying demands to step down, the 89-year-old California liberal mainstay vowed she was back for good even as she recovers from a nasty case of shingles.

“My doctors have advised me to work a lighter schedule as I return to the Senate,” Feinstein said in a statement. “I’m hopeful those issues will subside as I continue to recover.”

Feinstein was greeted with a handshake and a pat on the back by Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, who will no longer have to parry questions about the timetable for her potential return.

The four-term Golden State senator looked thinner and more frail than when she was last at the Capitol in February.

Her absence caused procedural headaches for Democrats as they work with a narrow 51-49 edge in the body, especially when it comes to confirming federal judges, a key tool that comes with the majority.

Feinstein is a member of the Judiciary Committee and her absence effectively allowed Republicans to block appointees in the panel.

She volunteered to step down from the panel temporarily and be replaced by a Democratic colleague but Republicans nixed that idea.

Some Democratic critics have whispered that Schumer and Sen. Dick Durbin, the Judiciary Committee chair, should have shunted Feinstein to a role that is less crucial to Biden’s agenda.

Her absence would mushroom into a full-blown crisis if a Supreme Court vacancy arises while she is unable to appear.

Progressives and even some moderate allies grumbled that Feinstein should resign if she is not healthy enough to represent the deep-blue state. But she insists that she remains an effective lawmaker despite health woes.