Feinstein is expected to cast a vote Wednesday — her first recorded vote since Feb. 16 — after missing 91 floor votes while recovering from shingles, according to an NBC News tally.
With Democrats holding just a single-seat advantage in the Senate, Feinstein’s absence complicated her party’s efforts to confirm some of President Joe Biden’s nominees. Her absence was most pronounced on the Judiciary Committee, where an 11-10 majority became a 10-10 stalemate — frustrating Democratic efforts to confirm some judges and scuttling any plans to issue subpoenas on a party-line vote.
An effort by Democrats to temporarily replace Feinstein on the committee with Sen. Ben Cardin, D-Md., was blocked by Republicans last month, with many saying they could not vote to make it easier for Biden to seat judicial nominees who they found to be radical or otherwise unacceptable.
Feinstein later disputed that her absence had in any way limited the number of nominees advanced by the committee.
“There has been no slowdown,” Feinstein wrote in a statement last week after the Judiciary Committee advanced seven less controversial nominees on a bipartisan basis. “I’m confident that when I return to the Senate, we will be able to move the remaining qualified nominees out of committee quickly and to the Senate floor for a vote.”
While Feinstein was sidelined, Senate Republicans were able to pass a measure that aims to overturn new air pollution standards in a 50-49 vote, with the help of Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia. President Biden is expected to veto it.
At 89, Feinstein is the Senate’s oldest member and had already announced her intention to retire when her term ends, in early 2025. She has served in the Senate since 1992.
The primary to fill Feinstein’s safe Democratic seat will likely be one of the marquee races next year — and her prolonged absence from the upper chamber has prompted some calls for her to resign early so that Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom can fill her seat by appointment immediately.
Those calls, which Feinstein’s defenders have decried as both sexist and ageist, may now be muted by her return.
Frank Thorp V contributed.