According to The New York Times, Feinstein, who is 89 years old, appeared unaware during one voting of why Harris, who had previously broken numerous ties, was taking up her role as President of the Senate. A witness in the report said Feinstein allegedly asked colleagues, "What is she doing here?"
With the Senate evenly split in a 50-50 majority for the first two years of the Biden administration, Democrats needed every member of their party plus Harris' tie-breaking vote to approve many bills and nominations. However, Feinstein's deteriorating memory was well-documented last year, with some lawmakers and former aides telling the San Francisco Chronicle that she can no longer fulfill her duties and represent California's nearly 40 million people without substantial assistance from aides.
This year, Feinstein was absent from the Senate from February until May as she dealt with complications from shingles. When she returned, she suffered from a neurological disorder called Ramsay Hunt Syndrome that stemmed from her struggles with shingles. A week after returning to Capitol Hill following her three-month absence, Feinstein appeared unaware she had been away. Feinstein claimed she never left after a reporter asked on May 16 about her colleagues' response to her return. "No, I haven't been gone," Feinstein said. "You should follow the — I haven't been gone. I've been working."
Since returning to the upper chamber, Feinstein has relied heavily on aides to function. According to The New York Times, staffers push her wheelchair, remind her how and when to vote, and explain what happens when she becomes confused. Some Democrat lawmakers are calling for Feinstein to resign because of cognitive decline and inability to fulfill her duties. Representatives Ro Khanna, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Ritchie Torres, and Rashida Tlaib have all urged the senator to step down.
Feinstein announced in February that she would not run for re-election in 2024 but would finish the remainder of her term. She has served in the upper chamber for 30 years.