SAN FRANCISCO -- Senator Dianne Feinstein on Wednesday said that she is requesting to temporarily step aside from the Senate Judiciary Committee as she continues to recover from shingles. The announcement came after a small but growing number of Democrats called for the 89-year-old to resign from the Senate arguing her absence was stalling the confirmation of President Biden's judicial nominees.
In a statement released by Feinstein's office, the California senator said her return to Washington D.C. has been delayed due to complications related to her shingles diagnosis.
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Feinstein has been out of work since early March. During that time, she has missed 60 votes, including 25 judicial appointments, according to the San Francisco Chronicle.
"I intend to return as soon as possible once my medical team advises that it's safe," Feinstein said in the statement. "In the meantime, I remain committed to the job and will continue to work from home in San Francisco."
Feinstein then added: "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."
There's no word yet on who may be selected to temporarily fill Feinstein's seat, and the process of choosing that person may not be easy. According to the Congressional Research Service, an appointee to a standing committee -- which would include the Judiciary Committee -- must be elected by the entire Senate.
Still, the announcement from Feinstein highlighted the growing sentiment among some Democrats that Feinstein -- who earlier this year announced she would not seek reelection in 2024 -- should resign.
Among those making the call is Bay Area Democratic congressman Ro Khanna. Khanna said the ruling by a conservative judge in Texas last week that put the future of a widely used abortion pill in limbo is an example of why judicial appointments are so important -- and why Democrats need to move fast to confirm President Biden's nominees.
"It's time for @SenFeinstein to resign," Khanna tweeted. "We need to put the country ahead of personal loyalty. While she 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."
Soon after, Democratic congressman Dean Phillips from Minnesota tweeted that he agreed with Khanna, calling it a "dereliction of duty" for Feinstein to stay in the job.
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"It's particularly painful to them in the judiciary committee where Feinstein is a member, because to advance judges and judicial appointments out of that committee, you need to have a majority vote," Joe Garofoli, a senior political writer at the San Francisco Chronicle, told ABC7 News. "Without Feinstein's vote, you don't have a majority."
In an interview on MSNBC on Tuesday, Congresswoman Katie Porter, who is running to replace Feinstein in the Senate, declined to say Feinstein should resign but said she should be removed from the Judicial Committee.
"I think the solution on the judges portion is to have her removed from her committee, if she's not able to do her service," Porter said. "I think that's something she can talk about with majority Leader Chuck Schumer. I think they'll chart a path together."
Notably, no member of the Senate has called for Feinstein to resign and on Wednesday high-profile allies of the senator came to her defense.
"All of those people raising all those questions should be far more respectful of the more than 40 years of quality service provided to the voters of this state by Dianne Feinstein," former San Francisco mayor Willie Brown said of Feinstein. "Senator Feinstein has been elected. She's been entitled to the job, and believe me when you are elected to something you are expected to serve."
Speaker Emerita Nancy Pelosi also defended Feinstein, telling ABC7 News on Wednesday that Feinstein "deserves the respect to get well and be back on duty." She suggested sexism could be at play.
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"I don't know what political agendas are at work that are going after Senator Feinstein in that way," Pelosi said, adding: "I've never seen them go after a man who was sick in the Senate in that way."
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Feinstein's supporters point out that the Senate has a long history of accommodating members who are sick or elderly and that Feinstein deserves the same respect.
"Remember, Senator Ted Kennedy, Senator John McCain being gone for long stretches of time as they dealt with what ended up being terminal illnesses," ABC News Political Director Rick Klein told our sister station in Los Angeles. "And that was a fact of life in the Senate that you just had one less vote on that side and that you didn't have that senator."
Garofoli said it would be difficult -- and unlikely -- to see Feinstein's fellow Democratic senators calling for her resignation.
"She has built up a lifetime of respect among her fellow democrats there," Garofoli said, "And they basically don't pick on your own, if you will."
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