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Sen. Dianne Feinstein told to ‘just say aye’ in awkward Senate committee moment

Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., appeared confused during a vote on a defense appropriations bill Thursday, which prompted a fellow Democratic senator to step in.

During a Senate Appropriations Committee markup of bills Thursday morning, Feinstein seemed to stumble on a vote. Instead of saying the expected response of “aye” or “nay,” Feinstein began delivering a speech expressing her support of the measure: “I would like to support a ‘yes’ vote on this. It provides $823 billion…”

About 15 seconds into Feinstein’s speech, an aide whispered in her ear. Committee chair Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., then told Feinstein: “Just say aye.”

“Aye,” Feinstein said.

Feinstein was later heard voting against another measure, before being corrected and switching to “yes.”

Feinstein’s office did not immediately respond to NBC News’ request for comment.

Last year, Feinstein, 89, pushed back against a news report citing multiple anonymous lawmakers questioning her mental fitness to continue serving. She was absent from Washington for months earlier this year due to a severe case of shingles. She repeatedly appeared to struggle answering questions from reporters, and at one point was being protected by Senate officials from journalists trying to take pictures and video of her.

Feinstein, 89, faced calls to resign from her Democratic colleagues amid her lengthy absence that complicated their efforts to confirm some of President Joe Biden’s nominees, given her key vote on the Judiciary Committee. The panel went from an 11-10 majority to a 10-10 stalemate during her absence.

Democrats attempted to temporarily replace Feinstein on the committee with Sen. Ben Cardin, D-Md., but Republicans blocked the effort, with many of them saying they could not vote to make it easier for Biden to seat judicial nominees whom they found to be radical or otherwise unacceptable.

Feinstein returned to the Senate floor in May, after missing 91 floor votes while she recovered from shingles, according to an NBC News tally.

Feinstein, who was first elected to the Senate in 1992, is the chamber’s oldest member. She has said that she plans to retire from Congress at the end of 2024, after three decades in the Senate.

After her return to the Senate in May, NBC News and other news outlets reported that Feinstein had experienced more complications than had been publicly disclosed. In addition to the shingles, Feinstein also suffered from Ramsay Hunt syndrome, which occurred when shingles spread to her head and neck, and a case of encephalitis, which is swelling of the brain, a person familiar with her situation told NBC News at the time.