Sen. Dianne Feinstein hospitalized with shingles

Sen. Dianne Feinstein fields reporters' questions at the U.S. Capitol last month.
Sen. Dianne Feinstein fields reporters’ questions at the U.S. Capitol last month.
(Associated Press)

Sen. Dianne Feinstein said Thursday she’s been hospitalized in California with shingles and hopes to return to Washington to vote in the Senate later this month.

It comes two weeks after the California Democrat — the oldest sitting senator at age 89 — announced she would retire at the end of her term next year.

“I was diagnosed over the February recess with a case of shingles,” Feinstein said in a statement. “I have been hospitalized and am receiving treatment in San Francisco and expect to make a full recovery. I hope to return to the Senate later this month.”


Feinstein is one of two Senate Democrats out with illness, prompting Vice President Kamala Harris to break three tied votes this week.

Sen. John Fetterman (D-Pa.), 53, still recovering from a stroke last year, was admitted to Walter Reed National Military Medical Center two weeks ago for clinical depression and may be absent for weeks.

Democrats control the Senate by a only a two-vote margin.

Feinstein has faced growing health challenges in recent years, including questions about whether she was up for the mental rigor of high-profile positions. Though she was in line to become the first woman to lead the Senate Judiciary Committee, the post ultimately went to a colleague.

There had been speculation that she would not serve out the entirety of her term, allowing Gov. Gavin Newsom to appoint someone else to the seat. In 2021 he even publicly committed to naming a Black woman if Feinstein were to leave office early.

But repeatedly, including last month, Feinstein said she plans to fulfill her term, which ends in late 2024.

A vacancy in the seat now would throw a new dynamic into the race to succeed her, a contest that got underway well before Feinstein announced she would not seek another term.


Democratic Reps. Katie Porter of Irvine, Adam B. Schiff of Burbank and Barbara Lee of Oakland have all announced campaigns for the coveted post.

In the short term, the absences of Feinstein and Fetterman in Washington have forced Harris, as president of the Senate, to return to a familiar role.

She had to break three ties this week on votes related to two judicial appointments, including that of Araceli Martinez-
Olguin to be U.S. district judge for the Northern District of California.

In addition to Feinstein and Fetterman, also out this week were Sens. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) and Michael D. Crapo (R-Idaho).

For the last two years, the Senate was divided at 50 Republicans and 50 Democrats (including two independent senators who caucus with them). That meant any absence could change the outcome of a close vote. It also meant Harris was called to break 26 ties, far more than any other vice president in the modern era.

The responsibility kept Harris frequently tied to Washington, all but unable to travel — or sometimes to even keep dinner plans — in case the Senate was split on a vote.

In the November midterm election, Democrats padded their majority by one vote, giving them slightly more breathing room and, in theory, eliminating the need to rely on Harris as much.


But the recent absences underscore the delicate nature of the Democratic Senate majority.

Because the House flipped to Republican control, the Senate has less legislation on its to-do list since most Democratic priorities would never get through the other chamber.

But the upper chamber still faces close votes in confirming the Biden administration’s judicial and administrative nominations, including former Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti’s nomination as ambassador to
India and former California labor chief Julie Su as the next U.S. Labor secretary.