Feinstein returning to D.C. as debt limit fight heats up

Pressure had ramped up on the California Democrat to either return or resign, as the Judiciary Committee has struggled to advance nominees.

Senator Dianne Feinstein walking in the U.S. Capitol.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein is en route back to Washington after a serious illness kept her from the Senate since February, according to her spokesperson.

Pressure for Feinstein to either return to Washington or resign grew in recent weeks following Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen’s announcement last week that the country could breach the debt limit as soon as June 1. Democrats would likely need Feinstein’s vote to clear any debt limit increase.

The California Democrat is set to retire at the end of this Congress, but has been absent after being hospitalized with shingles. The 89-year-old’s absence has made Democrats short of a critical vote on the Senate Judiciary Committee, preventing certain nominees from moving forward, and on the floor.

Her travel back to Washington follows a conversation last week with Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, in which she said she could return as soon as this week. It is not yet clear if Feinstein will participate in Tuesday night’s floor votes.

“I’m glad that my friend Dianne is back in the Senate and ready to roll up her sleeves and get to work. After talking with her multiple times over the past few weeks, it’s clear she’s back where she wants to be and ready to deliver for California,” Schumer said in a statement Tuesday.

Feinstein’s return will put two nominees in the spotlight, in part because Feinstein’s absence is not the only vote holding them up. Senate Democrats will now have to grapple with the nomination of Michael Delaney for the First Circuit, which has been held over in Judiciary for weeks and could face further problems on the floor. Delaney faces criticism, even from some Democrats, over his representation of a school in a sexual assault case.

Feinstein’s vote could also be critical for Julie Su, President Joe Biden’s pick for Secretary of Labor. A handful of moderate Democrats, including Sens. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) and Jon Tester (D-Mont.) have declined to say whether they will support her on the floor. Any Democratic defections would make Feinstein’s vote even more critical in the 51-49 Senate.