Senate Democrats were on edge once against last week, after California Senator Dianne Feinstein had to be taken to a hospital after she suffered a fall while at her home.
Even though Feinstein only spent a couple hours at the hospital before being released, and the trip to the hospital was only “precautionary,” according to her office, it still points to the very slim majority that Democrats have in the Senate.
As liberals are seeking to push a very ambitious agenda when the full Congress returns to Washington following Labor Day, they’ll need every one of their members present and voting in line. If Feinstein were to miss even more time due to additional medical concerns, it could cause problems with passing items through.
Over the last year or so, Feinstein has faced many calls from Democrats to step aside so someone else could take her place in the Senate. While she was out for a lengthy period of time earlier in the year, no judicial nominees could move forward since she sits on the Judiciary Committee.
To this point, Feinstein has said she will not step aside and will serve out the remainder of her term. She has announced that she will not be seeking re-election in 2024, though.
Now, with Feinstein facing even more pressing health concerns, Democrats are worried about what’s ahead.
One of the big issues that is coming up following Labor Day include Democrats’ push to come up with a negotiated deal to fund the government. In addition, leadership on the Judiciary Committee is eager to get President Joe Biden’s nominees moving forward and out of committee to a full vote.
Late last week while appearing on a panel, Democratic Senator Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island commented on Feinstein’s situation:
“I think she’s been a great colleague for a long time, and I think she’s been very brave about coming in and continuing to work, particularly on the Judiciary Committee.”
He added that Feinstein’s work has kept up “with everybody knowing full well” that when she isn’t present on the Judiciary Committee, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell has the “prerogative” to hold up any nominees from moving forward.
Yet, despite all the concerns about the immediate future of the Judiciary Committee, the biggest concern Democrats have with Feinstein’s health is that they’re likely to need every vote they have in the Senate to pass spending bills that would avoid a full government shutdown.
Democratic Senator Chris Murphy of Connecticut said earlier this week that he expects that Congress will first need to approve a continuing resolution so that the government will be funded as lawmakers work on a bigger plan to fund the government during the fiscal year 2024.
That would be an uphill climb for Democrats, though, as they’ll still need to secure support from some Republicans – even if they get all 51 Democrats to be present and support the measure.
As Murphy said of the situation and Feinstein specifically:
“Attendance is always going to be important. She needs to be here, but so does everyone else.”