In the wake of unexpected hospitalizations of two lawmakers, Senate Democrats have found themselves lacking the outright majority they assumed would eliminate the need for Vice President Kamala Harris' tie-breaking vote and make it easier to confirm nominees put forward by the White House, as the Washington Examiner reports.
News emerged this week that Democrat Sen. Dianne Feinstein (CA) had to be hospitalized due to a case of shingles with which she was diagnosed while the upper chamber was in recess in February, according to NBC News.
“I have been hospitalized and am receiving treatment in San Francisco and expect to make a full recovery. I hope to return to the Senate later this month,” said Feinstein, though she has already missed multiple votes due to her condition.
The California lawmaker's absence was compounded by that of first-term Sen. John Fetterman (D-PA), who entered inpatient treatment for clinical depression last month.
As Fox News noted this week, Fetterman's office released an update on his condition, saying that the legislator was “doing well” and “remains on the path to recovery,” though no timeline for a full resumption of in-person Senate duties was provided.
“He is visiting with staff and family daily, and his staff are keeping him updated on Senate business and news,” the statement declared. “Our team is moving full speed ahead and working tirelessly for the people of Pennsylvania.”
Interestingly, while Fetterman is unable to be present for votes in the Senate, he has, as the New York Post noted, managed to co-sponsor legislation on three separate occasions over the course of the week, something that Fox News contributor Dr. Marc Siegel suggested was highly unusual.
Remarking on Fetterman's history, which includes a debilitating stroke in the last year that left the senator with notable cognitive impairment, Siegel said he found it odd that “somebody that's being admitted for severe depression would be performing their job.”
“Mental illness and physical illness aren't the same in terms of the level of impairment,” Siegel maintained,” seeming to indicate his skepticism about the wisdom of Fetterman's flurry of Senate activity.
That aside, the bottom line for Democrats is that without Feinstein and Fetterman in the Senate chamber, Harris has had to resume her role as tiebreaker, a fact which underscores the knife's edge on which the majority has long existed.
In the last week alone, Harris has had to cast decisive votes in the Senate, two of which were for judicial nominees put forth by President Joe Biden, according to the Examiner.
Following a better-than-expected showing in the November midterms, Democrats relished the notion that with a bolstered majority, Harris would finally have the freedom necessary to take a more active role in trumpeting the administration's priorities and achievements and perhaps even raise her own approval numbers.
The White House has not commented on the Biden administration's level of concern about the effect of Senate absences on presidential priorities, but it is clear that Republicans intend to use any available advantage that may result from the current situation, already utilizing a tool that permits recently formalized rules to be rescinded via simple majority vote.
Though there is no indication thus far that either Feinstein's or Fetterman's absence from the Senate will be particularly lengthy in nature, the past week goes to show just how precarious the balance of power in the chamber is at present and how easily one or two unforeseen events can turn the legislative landscape upside down.