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A frail Sen. Feinstein continues to vote as new details emerge about her health

It’s police week here at the nation’s Capitol, and, with law enforcement officers flowing through the halls, the Senate Judiciary Committee took up several bills meant to support the police.

Amid debate about legislation Thursday to recruit officers who agree to serve in their home communities, California’s senior senator spoke up.

“I just wanted to say one thing and that’s about cops on the beat,” Sen. Dianne Feinstein said — in her first extended public remarks since she returned to Washington, D.C., after several months at home in San Francisco with shingles.

“I was mayor of San Francisco for nine years. There was no program more favorable with people than police on the streets. They got to know them. There was a positive relationship. The crime rate went down.”

“Anything we can do to help I think we should,” Feinstein added.

Feinstein, 89, still used a wheelchair to move around the Capitol but she looked noticeably more spry during the hearing than in recent days. She was able to walk into the hearing chamber and spoke for far longer and far more cogently than she did last week. During that hearing last Thursday, she read her yes vote from a note and then asked to be recorded as voting in person on three other judges whose nominations were raised before her arrival.

In the ensuing days she was scarcely seen except to vote on the Senate floor. Moving through the halls with Nancy Pelosi’s eldest daughter, Nancy Corinne Prowda, at her side, Feinstein looked frailer than before her absence and struggled to walk very far without the supportive arm of an aide. Prowda is a longtime family friend who is not on Feinstein’s staff.

Feinstein’s eyelid and face appear to droop, which is a side effect of shingles known as Ramsey Hunt syndrome. It’s a partial paralysis and relatively common for people who suffer shingles rashes on their face.

She has also suffered a case of encephalitis, a swelling of the brain, according to Feinstein spokesman Adam Russell. This complication from shingles, which was first reported by the New York Times on Thursday, can be debilitating, causing memory loss among other effects.

“While the encephalitis resolved itself shortly after she was released from the hospital in March, she continues to have complications from Ramsay Hunt syndrome,” Russell said.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) uses a wheelchair to get around the Capitol with her staff and Nancy Corinne Prowda, a daughter of Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-San Francisco).

(Kent Nishimura/Los Angeles Times)

Russell added that: “Nancy Corrine is a dear friend of Senator Feinstein’s going back more than 40 years. She has been spending time with the senator as she continues to recover from shingles.”

On Tuesday, Feinstein spoke with two reporters —including one from The Times — alongside Prowda and appeared to not recall she’d been absent from Congress for months due to her illness.

“I haven’t been gone,” she said. “I’ve been working.”

“You’ve been working from home is what you’re saying?” the reporter asked.

“No, I’ve been here. I’ve been voting. Please, either know or don’t know,” Feinstein replied.

The interaction came on the heels of several reports, including one last year in the San Francisco Chronicle, that described the deterioration of her memory. Feinstein at the time dismissed the stories, saying she was still fit to serve. The powerful senator is famous for being a very hands-on boss, but the case of shingles appears to have taken a toll.

It has raised questions about whether she can continue to serve out the rest of her term which ends in 2025. Three members of the House of Representatives are competing for her seat on next year’s ballot — Democratic Reps. Adam Schiff of Burbank, Katie Porter of Irvine and Barbara Lee of Oakland.

Still, her presence in the Senate is essential for Democrats to continue pursuing their agenda — including confirming judges, while maintaining maximum leverage.

Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer has asked his colleagues, who are out on recess, to be available on 24 hours’ notice to return to Washington next week to vote on raising the country’s borrowing limit, which is the biggest controversy in halls of government at the moment. The New York Democrat, who was in contact with Feinstein during her absence and was by her side when she first returned, lauded the chamber’s ability to confirm 10 federal judges during this recent monthlong work period.

Feinstein was integral in this work, including helping confirm Nancy Abudu to the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals Thursday on a 49-47 vote. Abudu, who is a civil rights attorney, is the first Black woman to be confirmed to the 11th Circuit.

“We have a duty to ensure that federal judges are individuals of the highest caliber and that includes appointing judges from a wide variety of personal and professional backgrounds,” Schumer said — while noting that the Senate this term has confirmed 129 judges.

Schumer declined to comment about Feinstein as he walked off the Senate floor after speaking and sending the chamber out on break.

After the Judiciary vote Thursday, Prowda, Pelosi’s daughter , shielded Feinstein from reporters hoping to ask questions.

Two photographers backpedaled to capture her exit and Feinstein asked, “What are they doing?”

“They‘re just gathering news clips,” Prowda responded.

Times staff photographer Kent Nishimura contributed to this report.

This story originally appeared on LA Times

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