Sen. Dianne Feinstein Returns from Medical Leave, Says She Was Never Gone: 'I've Been Here. I've Been Voting'

Feinstein took a two-and-a-half-month leave of absence in California to recover from shingles

AP Photo/Jose Luis Magana Dianne Feinstein
AP Photo/Jose Luis Magana Dianne Feinstein

Sen. Dianne Feinstein seemingly forgot that she had been absent from the Senate during a two-and-a-half-month recovery from shingles, telling a reporter on Tuesday, "I've been here" when asked about her recent return.

Feinstein, 89, was admitted to a San Francisco hospital to be treated for shingles in March, saying in a statement at the time she was hopeful to return to the Senate later that month.

Ultimately, her leave stretched for more than two months, with the California Democrat returning to the Capitol in mid-May, using a wheelchair but saying in an official statement she was "prepared to resume my duties."

Related:U.S. Senator Dianne Feinstein, 89, Hospitalized with Shingles

Francis Chung/POLITICO via AP Dianne Feinstein
Francis Chung/POLITICO via AP Dianne Feinstein

On Tuesday, she spoke to reporters briefly while in an elevator. Slate reports that, when one reporter asked how her Senate colleagues had welcomed her back, Feinstein responded, "No, I haven't been gone. You should follow the—I haven't been gone. I've been working."

Asked if she meant she had been working from home, Feinstein told the reporter: "No, I've been here. I've been voting. Please — You either know or don't know."

Feinstein — a six-term senator and the oldest member of Congress — announced in February 2023, that she would not seek reelection in 2024 amid rumors of cognitive decline, leading other notable California Democrats to announce bids to replace her.

Related:California's 2024 Senate Race Is Poised to Be a Historic Showdown — Here Are the Candidates to Watch

Initially, Feinstein pushed back on such claims of decline, even after the 2022 publication of a lengthy report, by the San Francisco Chronicle, in which four U.S. senators, including three Democrats, and three former staffers and a California Democrat serving in the House of Representatives all said Feinstein's memory was deteriorating to the point that they felt she could not fulfill her job duties without the help of her staff.

Francis Chung/POLITICO via AP Images Dianne Feinstein
Francis Chung/POLITICO via AP Images Dianne Feinstein

In a statement to PEOPLE shared by her press team in April 2022, Feinstein denied the accounts of infirmity.

"I remain committed to do what I said I would when I was re-elected in 2018: fight for Californians, especially on the economy and the key issues for California of water and fire," she said in the statement.

"While I have focused for much of the past year on my husband's health and ultimate passing, I have remained committed to achieving results and I'd put my record up against anyone's," she continued.

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Since her hospitalization with shingles, more lawmakers have expressed support for her resignation. In a recent interview with Politico, Democratic Rep. Ro Khanna said "three months is a long time to be absent without any clarity."

He continued: "But given where we are, I'm hopeful. I'm giving the situation the benefit of the doubt and hopeful that she'll be able to fulfill her duty, that's what I care about."

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