Three closely watched ailing senators remain away from the Capitol this week and it’s not clear when they will return. One of them, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, has spoken directly with some members of his leadership team and conveyed to them he is doing well and anxious to get back to work.
Meanwhile, Sen. John Fetterman, a Pennsylvania Democrat, continues to make progress in his treatment for clinical depression at Walter Reed Medical Center while also staying in close contact with key members of his staff, according to a source familiar with the situation.
Fetterman has not said when he plans to return to the Senate. The senator entered treatment for clinical depression in February. He suffered a stroke in May 2022 in the days leading up to the Pennsylvania primary.
And 89-year-old Sen. Dianne Feinstein, a Democrat of California, has not returned to the Senate after being treated in the hospital, and now at home, for shingles. Her aides won’t speculate about when she will return.
As it is still early in the new congressional session, it’s not clear if the absences are creating real roadblocks to passing bills or approving nominees. The Senate has a two-week recess after the end of next week, which could provide the three senators a little added cushion of time to regain their good health and return to the Senate in mid-April, although that’s not certain.
Texas Republican Sen. John Cornyn said McConnell is “chomping at the bit” to get back to work, and that the 81-year-old Kentucky senator “sounds very sharp” following a fall two weeks ago that left him with a concussion and a fractured rib.
After being discharged from the hospital, his office said the next step would be for McConnell to go to a rehabilitation facility for physical therapy.
“He sounds very sharp,” Cornyn said when asked to describe how McConnell seemed cognitively. “I think just frustrated, as you might imagine, having to go through all this, but he’s eager to come back, and I, again, I told him don’t be in a big hurry. You know, get stronger, get better. And we’re not doing much here.”
Cornyn also said McConnell “didn’t give me any timetable” on his return to the chamber
Senate GOP Whip John Thune said on Tuesday that he spoke to McConnell on the phone that morning and he “sounded good” and is “anxious” to get back to work at the Senate. But the No. 2 Senate Republican wouldn’t speculate on when McConnell might return. “I can’t speak to when he’s coming back,” Thune said
Thune said the two spoke about what’s happening on the Senate floor – “which isn’t much,” he said in a dig at the Democratic majority – during their “short” five- minute conversation. He said they didn’t touch on the looming possibility of an indictment of former President Donald Trump nor how the Senate GOP conference might respond to that delicate political issue. One of McConnell’s key and continuous contributions among Senate Republicans is helping to set the political messaging strategies on a variety of matters.
On if there’s anything missing while McConnell’s been out recovering, Thune said, “He’s the leader so yeah, but I think that he’s got of course, as you know, a great staff, great team, and we have a lot of very capable members of our leadership team. And so everybody’s kind of stepping up and doing what they can to make sure that we got, as I said, all the bases covered until he gets back.”
A drive to repeal the 1991 Gulf War and 2002 Iraq War authorizations of military force that supporters had hoped to pass this week won’t happen at least until next week as senators continue to work to reach an agreement on how many amendments will be voted on as part of that debate. The delay can’t be directly attributed to the absent senators, although McConnell would be a principal negotiator on that matter.
And because Feinstein is a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, her being out has forced a postponement of one committee session when it became clear Democrats could not get the votes to approve some nominees who were opposed by all Republicans on the panel.
Piling on to the Senate’s woes – and the Judiciary Committee in particular – is the fact that its chairman, Sen. Dick Durbin of Illinois, who is also the second ranking member of the Democratic leadership, is away this week quarantining for five days after testing positive for Covid-19.