Former House Speaker Rep. Nancy Pelosi (R-Calif.) has suggested that sexism was behind calls by fellow Democrats for Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), an 89-year-old woman, to resign due to poor health.
Feinstein has been absent from the Senate since February, when she was diagnosed with shingles.
Several House Democrats have called on Feinstein to resign while Pelosi on Wednesday put forward a rebuke of these voices, suggesting that sexism was at play.
“It’s interesting to me. I don’t know what political agendas are at work that are going after Sen. Feinstein in that way. I’ve never seen them go after a man who was sick in the Senate in that way,” Pelosi told reporters on Capitol Hill.
Feinstein “deserves the respect to get well and be back on duty,” Pelosi added.
Another Democrat lawmaker, Rep. Norma Torres (D-Calif.), also suggested that there was a double standard behind calls for Feinstein to resign.
“When women age or get sick, the men are quick to push them aside,” Torres said in a tweet.
“When men age or get sick, they get a promotion,” she added, without providing any specifics to support her claim.
‘We Have a Crisis’
Rep. Ro Khanna (D-Calif.) was the first to call on Feinstein to quit.
“While she has had a lifetime of public service, it is obvious she can no longer fulfill her duties,” Khanna said in a post on Twitter. “Not speaking out undermines our credibility as elected representative of the people.”
Rep. Dean Phillips (D-Minn.), called Feinstein a “remarkable American whose contributions to our country are immeasurable” but added that by staying on as a senator while absent for a prolonged time was not in the interests of her constituents.
“I believe it’s now a dereliction of duty to remain in the Senate and a dereliction of duty for those who agree to remain quiet,” Phillips said.
Feinstein’s absence from the key Senate Judiciary Committee has kept Democrats from advancing their nominees through the committee for a vote on the Senate floor.
Khanna said in a statement to NBC News that Feinstein’s absence was holding up President Joe Biden’s judicial nominations.
“We have a crisis in the judiciary with extremist judges stripping away women’s rights. You can’t preach on television about the danger of these judges and then sit silently as Senator Feinstein misses vote after vote to confirm pro-choice judges,” Khanna said. “It’s time for California officials who care deeply about reproductive rights to call on her to step down at this moment in history.”
For her part, Feinstein has responded to calls for her resignation by saying that the Senate should appoint a temporary replacement to sit in for her on the Judiciary Committee.
“I understand that my absence could delay the important work of the Judiciary Committee, so I’ve asked Leader Schumer to ask the Senate to allow another Democratic senator to temporarily serve until I’m able to resume my committee work,” Feinstein said in a statement on Wednesday.
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) said in a statement Wednesday that, in accordance with Feinstein’s wishes, he would ask the Senate next week to let someone take her spot on the committee.
Feinstein said she initially expected to return to her job on Capitol Hill by the end of March, but “due to continued complications related to my diagnosis,” her return to Washington has been delayed.
“I intend to return as soon as possible once my medical team advises that it’s safe for me to travel,” she said, adding that she remains “committed to the job and will continue to work from home in San Francisco.”
Shingles, also called herpes zoster, is a disease caused by the varicella-zoster virus, which triggers a painful skin rash, according to the National Institute of Health.
Cases of shingles are not normally life-threatening, although the disease can be fatal for elderly people or those with compromised immune systems.
Feinstein has said she doesn’t plan to seek re-election in 2024.
Three California Democrats—Reps. Katie Porter, Adam Schiff, and Barbara Lee—have announced their respective intentions to run for the seat that she will leave vacant.
Porter, a 49-year-old single mother, became a congresswoman in 2019. Prior to her political career, she worked as a law professor at University of California at Irwine specializing in consumer protection.
Lee, 76, was elected to the state Legislature in 1990 and to Congress in 1998. She is best known for casting the sole “Nay” vote against the joint resolution that authorized President George W. Bush to use military force after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.
Meanwhile, Schiff gained prominence among Democrats as the chief prosecutor in President Donald Trump’s first impeachment trial, which ended with an acquittal. He was also a member of the now-dissolved congressional committee that conducted an 18-month investigation of the breach of the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021.
Feinstein has not yet endorsed anyone for her seat.
Pelosi has backed Schiff for Feinstein’s seat when she eventually vacates it.
Bill Pan contributed to this report.
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