Feinstein resists calls from House Democrats to resign: Here's everything we know

Eighty-nine-year-old Sen. Dianne Feinstein, who is recovering from shingles, has vowed to return to the Senate to finish her fifth term.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein
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Two House Democrats are calling on Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., to resign amid concerns about her health and ability to serve in Congress. Feinstein, 89, who has been absent from the Senate for more than a month while recovering from shingles, plans to retire at the end of her sixth term in 2024.

Here’s everything we know.

Who called on Feinstein to resign?

Rep. Ro Khanna, D-Calif., was the first House Democrat to publicly call for Feinstein to step down.

“It’s time for @SenFeinstein to resign,” he tweeted on Wednesday. “We need to put the country ahead of personal loyalty. While she has had a lifetime of public service, it is obvious she can no longer fulfill her duties. Not speaking out undermines our credibility as elected representatives of the people.”

Rep. Dean Phillips, D-Minn., echoed Khanna’s call.

“I agree with @RoKhanna,” Phillips wrote on Twitter. “Senator Feinstein is a remarkable American whose contributions to our country are immeasurable. But I believe it’s now a dereliction of duty to remain in the Senate and a dereliction of duty for those who agree to remain quiet.”

As Yahoo News partner The Hill pointed out, their calls came after Jon Lovett, a Crooked Media co-founder and former speechwriter for President Barack Obama, said Feinstein should step aside, adding that “more people should be calling on her to resign.”

What was her response?

Feinstein walks through the Senate subway in September 2022.
Feinstein walks through the Senate subway on her way to a vote at the Capitol in September 2022. (Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

Feinstein released a statement on Wednesday night saying she intends to return to the Senate as soon as she is cleared to travel by her doctors.

“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,” she said. “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.”

Feinstein, who sits on the powerful Senate Judiciary Committee, was hospitalized after being diagnosed with shingles in February.

Her absence has stalled the committee’s push to confirm President Biden's judicial nominees. According to the Los Angeles Times, the committee’s last vote on a nominee was on Feb. 16.

In her statement, Feinstein said that she had asked Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer to “allow another Democratic senator to temporarily serve” on the panel “until I’m able to resume my committee work.”

What was Schumer’s response?

Sen. Chuck Schumer
Sen. Chuck Schumer. (Elizabeth Frantz/Reuters)

In a brief statement, Schumer’s office said he would seek to grant Feinstein’s request when the Senate convenes next week.

“Per Sen. Feinstein’s wishes, Majority Leader Schumer will ask the Senate next week to allow another Democratic senator to temporarily serve on the Judiciary Committee,” the statement read.

However, it’s unclear whether Schumer will have the votes to grant Feinstein's request. As Politico pointed out, Democrats would need to pass a resolution on the Senate floor — and would need Republican votes to get it passed. (So far, no Republicans have threatened to block the request, but that could change.)

Schumer’s Republican counterpart, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, has been recovering after being hospitalized for a concussion following a fall on March 8.

He was discharged a few days later and had been receiving inpatient care but has not yet returned to the Capitol.

What about Pelosi?

Nancy Pelosi
Former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. (Kevin Lamarque/Reuters)

Rep. Nancy Pelosi, the former House speaker and Feinstein's fellow California Democrat, wondered aloud whether calls for the senator to step aside were born out of sexism.

“It’s interesting to me. I don’t know what political agendas are at work that are going after Sen. Feinstein in that way. I’ve never seen them go after a man who was sick in the Senate in that way,” Pelosi told reporters on Wednesday.

Freshman Sen. John Fetterman, D-Pa., has also been out since February for treatment for clinical depression. He will be returning to Capitol Hill next week.

As Reuters noted, Feinstein was the first woman to serve as mayor of San Francisco and the first woman to chair the Senate Judiciary Committee; she is currently the longest-serving female senator.

What’s next?

Sen. Dianne Feinstein
Feinstein at a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing, April 28, 2021. (Tom Williams/Pool via AP)

Feinstein’s advanced age, health problems and reported memory lapses have led to speculation that she might decide to retire before the end of her term.

In 2022, the San Francisco Chronicle reported that colleagues were worried that she was unfit to serve, citing situations during which they had to reintroduce themselves to her multiple times during a policy discussion that lasted several hours.

Feinstein subsequently defended her job performance and said she had no plans to step down.

Democratic California Reps. Katie Porter, Barbara Lee and Adam Schiff have already announced bids to fill Feinstein’s seat in the upper chamber.

Porter announced hers before Feinstein announced plans to retire. “California needs a warrior in Washington,” Porter said in a video announcing her candidacy. “It’s time for new leadership in the U.S. Senate.”

The race is expected to be one of the most expensive in congressional history.

Khanna, who had been considering his own bid, announced last month that he would not run and endorsed Lee for the seat instead.