Senator Dianne Feinstein’s Health Concerns Raise Questions About Fitness to Serve in the Senate

Senator Dianne Feinstein's return to the Senate after a month-long absence due to shingles has brought about fresh concerns regarding her health. The 89-year-old senator looked noticeably thinner and frail and used a wheelchair to move around Capitol Hill.[0] Her absence from Washington had caused anxiety among Democrats who were worried that their slim majority could make their work difficult or impossible.[1] However, a recent report by The New York Times has disclosed that Feinstein has been dealing with more complications than just shingles alone. The virus had spread to her face and neck, causing vision and balance impairments and facial paralysis, also known as Ramsay Hunt syndrome.[2] The virus also brought on encephalitis, a rare but potentially debilitating complication of shingles.[3] Neither of the conditions were publicly disclosed.[4]

Feinstein's diagnosis has fueled concerns about her fitness to serve in the Senate.[5] Her short-term memory issues are widely acknowledged on Capitol Hill, and previous reports have suggested her aides and staffers are performing many of her Senate duties behind the scenes.[6] She has been dogged by health questions for years, including over her memory – questions that have only intensified during her months-long absence from the Senate and her recent return. Her inability to maintain the taxing schedule required of a U.S. senator, and her nearly three-month absence, led to some congressional Democrats calling for her to resign.[1]

The exchange occurred after various reports, including one from the San Francisco Chronicle last year, detailed the decline of her memory.[7] At that time, Feinstein rejected the reports and asserted her capacity to fulfill her duties.[7] The renowned senator is known for being an involved leader, however, it seems that the shingles incident has affected them.[7] Ever since her return to the Capitol, Feinstein has had a constant companion in the form of Nancy Prowda, Pelosi's daughter. Prowda can usually be found by the senator's side, along with a team of aides who assist her in casting votes and protect her from the press as she navigates the Capitol in her wheelchair.[8] The relationship has raised questions about Pelosi’s motives in assisting Feinstein and whether she is angling to protect the political future of her protégé Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.), who announced plans to run for Feinstein’s seat upon her retirement next year.[6]

However, if Feinstein steps down before the end of her term, California Gov.[6] Gavin Newsom (D) has committed to selecting a Black woman as a replacement, and it is probable that he will choose Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.), who has already declared her intention to compete for Feinstein's position.[6] Pelosi spokesperson Aaron Bennett defended the relationship between Prowda and Feinstein, saying Pelosi and her daughter have been friends with Feinstein for “decades,” adding, “Anyone who knows Senator Feinstein knows that her service in the Senate is entirely her own decision, and Speaker Emerita Pelosi would never suggest otherwise.”

Feinstein's health complications from the shingles virus were more severe than previously disclosed, according to a spokesperson for the senator.[6] According to the New York Times, enduring memory or language difficulties, sleep disorders, confusion, mood alterations, headaches, and mobility impediments are potential outcomes of post-shingles encephalitis. Previous concerns surrounding Feinstein's cognitive and physical health have now been validated by recent reports.[4] Encephalitis can affect the memory and language abilities of individuals, while also causing sleep disturbances, mood disorders, confusion, headaches, and issues with mobility.

Feinstein's return to the Senate has brought to light concerns regarding her health and fitness to perform her duties. Her health complications have raised questions about her ability to continue serving as a U.S. senator, and calls for her resignation have been made by several congressional Democrats. The case of shingles appears to have taken a toll on Feinstein, who is famous for being a very hands-on boss. Her short-term memory issues are widely acknowledged on Capitol Hill, and previous reports have suggested her aides and staffers are performing many of her Senate duties behind the scenes.[6] As she battles several cognitive and physical health issues, the senator's future in politics remains uncertain.

0. “Feinstein's health complications more serious than previously disclosed” KTVU FOX 2 San Francisco, 18 May. 2023,

1. “Feinstein responds to questions about her absence from Washington” Yahoo Life, 16 May. 2023,

2. “Feinstein suffered more complications from illness than were publicly disclosed” The Boston Globe, 18 May. 2023,

3. “Feinstein Got Encephalitis, Ramsay Hunt Syndrome From Shingles, Office Confirms” Bloomberg, 19 May. 2023,

4. “People Close to Dianne Feinstein Are Joking That She'll Resign When She's Dead” The New Republic, 18 May. 2023,

5. “Feinstein Denies She Was Ever Absent from Senate in Bizarre Exchange” The Daily Beast, 16 May. 2023,

6. “Feinstein Faced More Severe Health Issues Than Initially Disclosed During Months-Long Senate Absence” Forbes, 18 May. 2023,

7. “A frail Sen. Dianne Feinstein continues to vote as new details emerge about her health” Los Angeles Times, 19 May. 2023,

8. “Sen. Feinstein's health complications from shingles more severe than disclosed” The Washington Post, 18 May. 2023,

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