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Unveiling Senator Feinstein’s Undisclosed Complications Suffered From Illness!


Senator Dianne Feinstein, a Democrat from California, looked shockingly weak when she returned to the Capitol last week after being sick for more than two months.

She was in a wheelchair and seemed confused as an aide pushed her through the marble hallways of the Senate. The left side of her face was frozen and one eye was almost closed. She complained out loud that something was stuck in her eye.

Ms. Feinstein looks weak because she had a lot of problems after being hospitalized for shingles in February, some of which she hasn’t talked about in public. The shingles spread to her face and neck, making it hard for her to see, keep her balance, and move her face.

This is called Ramsay Hunt syndrome. The virus also caused encephalitis, which is a rare but possibly debilitating complication of shingles. Many news outlets reported it, and a spokesman confirmed it on Thursday, saying that the condition “resolved itself” in March.

Post-shingles encephalitis causes the brain to swell, which can cause long-term problems with memory or language, sleep problems, dizziness, mood problems, headaches, and trouble walking.

People who are older tend to have the hardest time getting better. Even before her most recent illness, Ms. Feinstein had a lot of trouble remembering things, which made people wonder about her mental ability.

The sad scene of her return to Capitol Hill showed what almost everyone who has talked to her in the past few days already knew: she was not ready to go back to work when she did, and she is now struggling to do her job, which requires long days, almost constant engagement on a wide range of important policy issues, and high-stakes decision-making.

In a statement released Thursday after The Times’ story came out, Ms. Feinstein’s spokesman said that the senator was still feeling the effects of Ramsay Hunt syndrome.

Her office wouldn’t say anything else for this story, but Ms. Feinstein said in a statement, “I’m back in Washington, where I’m voting and going to committee meetings while I recover from complications caused by shingles.” I will keep working and getting things done for California.”

People who are close to Ms. Feinstein, a senator who has served for six terms, say that seeing her in the Senate in her current state is “frightening.” They say that it is a sad end to a long and successful political career, and they worry that it will cast a shadow over her reputation and her accomplishments.

 Unveiling Senator Feinstein's Undisclosed Complications Suffered From Illness!

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More immediately, it has brought up questions about whether Ms. Feinstein, who has said she will leave when her term ends in January 2025, is fit to keep serving even for that long.

Ms. Feinstein has stubbornly refused to think about leaving the Senate, even though she was one of the first women to get involved in Democratic politics and was once a big party power broker and a legislative force.

When she is asked to step down, she shows the same strength of will that kept her from giving in to pressure from the Obama government almost a decade ago to keep a bad report on torture secret.

The senator still sees her job as her calling, and she isn’t any more open to talking about stepping down than she was in 2018 when she decided to run for another term despite questions about her mental health.

People who know her well joke that maybe when she dies, she’ll start to think about leaving her job. Over the years, she and many Democrats have resisted calls for her to step down, pointing out that similar questions were rarely asked of older male lawmakers who stayed in office despite physical and mental problems, even when it was clear they couldn’t do their jobs on their own.

But after her most recent illness, even some of Ms. Feinstein’s old friends are very worried about her.

Susie Tompkins Buell, a big Democratic fundraiser, and longtime Feinstein supporter, said, “I really respect the senator, and I’m sorry she’s so sick.” But she said, “The Senate has important and difficult work to do, and because the stakes are so high and she can’t be there, be informed, and be involved, let alone get the rest she needs to get better, I think she should step down.” Still, she doesn’t want to do it in this state of mind.”

Ms. Buell said that Senator Chuck Schumer, a Democrat from New York and the majority leader, or Gov. Gavin Newsom of California, who would choose Ms. Feinstein’s replacement if she resigned before the end of her term, have “the responsibility to do something.”

 Unveiling Senator Feinstein's Undisclosed Complications Suffered From Illness!

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Neither of them has asked her directly to leave, and the senator has turned down almost every attempt to talk seriously about her future.

While she was recovering at home in San Francisco, Ms. Feinstein wouldn’t talk to California politicians who tried to check in on her. On her personal phone, a call from Mr. Newsom was taken by an assistant, and the call was not returned.

Alex Padilla, a Democrat from California, offered to come visit in person, but it was turned down right away. Even some relatives who wanted to see her were not allowed to.

Even during her most recent health problem, Ms. Feinstein was sure that she had to go back to work. She pushed to go back to Washington as pressure grew on her to step down or show up to vote so that Democrats could move forward with President Biden’s judicial nominees and get their plan done in the Senate, which was very split.

Mr. Schumer was one person she would talk to on the phone. In several chats with her, he told her to listen to what her doctors told her. But when it was clear that she didn’t want to talk about leaving office, Mr. Schumer started making plans for her to go back to Washington, according to people who were in on the talks.

“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,” Mr. Schumer said in a statement on the day Ms. Feinstein returned. He met her in front of the Capitol as an assistant helped her get into her wheelchair after getting out of a car.

 Unveiling Senator Feinstein's Undisclosed Complications Suffered From Illness!

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With Ms. Feinstein’s return, Senate Democrats were able to move forward with three of Mr. Biden’s judicial nominations that had been held up by the Judiciary Committee because of her absence.

This was because her party didn’t have the majority it needed to move forward in the face of Republican resistance while she was gone. Democrats in the committee gave her a standing ovation when she walked in.

But when a small group of reporters asked Ms. Feinstein about the warm greeting a few days later, she seemed confused about it.

“I haven’t been gone,” she said. When asked if she meant that she had been working from home, she pushed back in a way that suggested she might not have known about her long and highly charged absence. “I’ve been here,” she said, sounding more and more angry. “I’ve been voting. Either know or don’t know, please.”

Aides have said that Ms. Feinstein is still involved and ultimately in charge of the choices that come out of her office, even though they have been criticized for letting her keep going as she is. They say that she looks over and approves the work that her staff brings her and that they don’t shield her from the toughest news clips about her health and the calls for her to step down.

But they have also said that she is not fully able to do her job as a senator. Since she came back, Ms. Feinstein has skipped several votes, and her staff said she would be working on a “lighter schedule” because of her ongoing health problems.

Last week, Ms. Feinstein flew back to Washington on a chartered private plane with her dog, her longtime housekeeper, and Nancy Corinne Prowda, the oldest daughter of Representative Nancy Pelosi of California, the former House speaker who has been a longtime friend of Ms. Feinstein’s and has been living at her house while she has been getting better.

 Unveiling Senator Feinstein's Undisclosed Complications Suffered From Illness!

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The senator has known Ms. Pelosi’s daughter for more than 30 years. People who know Ms. Feinstein well say that the Pelosi family grew up across the street from her and that Ms. Prowda has been close to Ms. Feinstein since she was a child and looks up to her as a mother figure.

But the senator’s health and the political drama surrounding her situation have been looked at so closely that even the fact that one of her best friends was with her while she was getting better has been talked about. Some have seen Ms. Prowda’s participation as a tacit endorsement of Ms. Feinstein’s decision to stay on by Ms. Pelosi.

They think this could help Representative Adam B. Schiff, a Democrat from California who is Ms. Pelosi’s choice to replace Ms. Feinstein in 2024. Mr. Newsom has promised that if the spot opens up, he will give it to a Black woman.

Ms. Prowda, on the other hand, has nothing to do with politics and is as close to Ms. Feinstein as family.

Since Ms. Feinstein came back to Washington, a few of her colleagues have said in private that she seems to have lost weight. They said that she probably shouldn’t be in the Senate, but Democrats are glad to have her vote when she can.

Before her current setback, Ms. Feinstein was already sick. She hasn’t always been able to remember the names of her coworkers, and she often can’t remember meetings or phone calls that just happened. She has also sometimes walked around looking confused.

Some politicians who have talked to her are very worried that she is not mentally able to do her job. Others have hung up the phone after talks with her in which she said the same thing several times in a row without seeming to notice.

Dr. Sharon E. Curhan, a doctor and epidemiologist at Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Harvard Medical School who is studying the link between shingles and changes in cognition, said that shingles could cause cognitive decline in a number of ways, such as by damaging the blood vessels in the brain.

 Unveiling Senator Feinstein's Undisclosed Complications Suffered From Illness!

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But there aren’t many people in Ms. Feinstein’s inner group who can convince her to step down. Former California Representative Ellen Tauscher, who was known as the “Feinstein whisperer,” died in 2019. She was a close friend. Richard C. Blum, her husband, died last year. This was a very bad thing for Ms. Feinstein.

Some current and former colleagues said the situation was scary to watch and blamed Senate Republicans, who denied Feinstein’s request for a temporary replacement on the Judiciary Committee, for upsetting images and sound bites of a sick and confused senator trying to find her way around the Capitol.

“Republicans are to blame for this nightmare scenario,” said former Senator Barbara Boxer. She and Ms. Feinstein made history in 1992 when they became the first women elected to the Senate from California. “That makes me sick to my stomach. I think they were mean to her and tried to make it look like the Democrats were to blame.

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