Sen. Dianne Feinstein’s Return To Work Marked By Increased Dependence On Staff: Report

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Democratic California Sen. Dianne Feinstein’s return to the U.S. Senate following a months-long absence has reportedly been marked by an increased dependence on congressional staff, doing little to silence critics calling on the aging legislator to resign.

Since her return to Congress earlier in May after a bout of shingles, Feinstein has been surrounded by a company of aides who, in addition to carrying out their typical duties, offer assistance to the senator by pushing her wheelchair or prompting her when she gets confused, The New York Times (NYT) reported Sunday. In addition, the aides work to keep Feinstein, 89, shielded from reporters and photographers, asking members of the press to keep a respectful distance from the California lawmaker, according to the outlet.

Though Feinstein’s return has been marked by increased scrutiny over her failing health and memory, concerns over the senator’s memory have already been an issue for years, requiring more support from her aides than any other member of Congress, according to the NYT. In 2022, Feinstein reportedly voiced her confusion when Vice President Kamala Harris presided over the Senate to cast a tie-breaking vote, allegedly asking her peers within the chamber, “What is she doing here?”(RELATED: ‘No I’ve Been Here’: Dianne Feinstein ‘Wheeled Away’ After Apparently Forgetting Leave Of Absence)

More recently, Feinstein denied a May 18 report by the NYT claiming the senator’s battle with shingles had resulted in a further struggle with Ramsay Hunt syndrome and encephalitis. Feinstein allegedly told reporters she had merely suffered from a “bad” case of the flu before her spokesman, Adam Russell, released a statement confirming she had indeed suffered from encephalitis but that the situation had “resolved itself,” according to the NYT.

Symptoms and complications from encephalitis can include ongoing memory or language problems, sleep issues, confusion, mood swings, headaches and difficulty with certain movements.

While Feinstein reportedly relies heavily on her aides to carry out her congressional duties, they are not the ones calling the shots, former adviser to President Barack Obama, David Axelrod, told the NYT. “They have a responsibility to give her brutally honest counsel and then adhere to her wishes, as she — and not they — were elected,” Axelrod reportedly said. “And they have an obligation to help her meet her own responsibilities to her state and the office.”

Despite calls from members of her own party to resign, Feinstein has insisted she is capable of carrying out her duties and her term, which expires in 2025. She announced in February she has no plans to run for reelection after serving 30 years in the Senate, but intends to stay for the remainder of her term in the 118th Congress.