Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) came to the defense of her colleague Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) on Wednesday in the midst of Democrats calling on Feinstein to resign because of her prolonged absence in Washington due to illness.
Pelosi told reporters, according to a video shared by a local CBS affiliate, that she has “never seen them go after a man who was sick in the Senate in that way” when asked about Feinstein, who is 89 and has been home recovering from shingles for a month and a half.
“For 20 years I have been the leader or the speaker of the House fighting for California, and I have seen up close and firsthand her great leadership for our country but especially for our state of California,” Pelosi said. “She deserves the respect to get well and be back on duty, and it’s interesting to me. I don’t know what political agendas are at work that are going after Senator Feinstein in that way.”
Pelosi’s comments come after at least two congressional Democrats, as well as others on the left such as podcaster and former President Barack Obama speechwriter Jon Lovett, called for Feinstein to resign amid her absence making voting more difficult for Senate Democrats, who have a narrow majority.
.@jonlovett on Dianne Feinstein:
She is now preventing us from being able to confirm judges… As sad as it is to see someone who has had an incredibly storied and important career… Dianne Feinstein should no longer be in the Senate. She should resign. pic.twitter.com/aPPMVUJuq2
— Pod Save America (@PodSaveAmerica) April 11, 2023
The first Democrat in Congress to speak out, Rep. Ro Khanna (D-CA) said Wednesday, “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.”
Feinstein sits on the Senate Judiciary Committee, which is responsible for approving President Joe Biden’s judicial nominees and is evenly tied between Republicans and Democrats while Feinstein is out.
Committee chairman Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL) told CNN on Monday that he could not consider the nominees “in these circumstances because a tie vote is a losing vote in committee.”
Feinstein responded to the mounting pressure against her in a statement Wednesday night, saying she had been experiencing “complications” from her sickness and that she would return to Washington when her doctors allowed her to travel.
In an unusual move, she also asked on Wednesday night that Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) “temporarily” fill her empty seat on the committee with another Democrat, which would help Democrats move forward with Biden’s judicial picks.
At least some Republicans would need to agree to this action, however, and it is unclear if they will given federal judges are at stake.
In one of the most recent instances of a male senator being absent for health reasons, Sen. John Fetterman (D-PA) checked himself into a hospital for depression on February 15.
Unlike Feinstein, however, Fetterman has set a definitive return date of April 17, the day the Senate returns from a two-week recess.
In another recent case, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), who is 81 and closer in age to Feinstein, was hospitalized in early March after a fall. He confirmed on social media on Thursday that he would return to D.C. on Monday as well.
Feinstein, who is the oldest member of the Senate, also faced criticism last year from her colleagues that her memory was “rapidly deteriorating,” according to the San Francisco Chronicle.