Sen. Dianne Feinstein Dies: Groundbreaking California Democrat Was 90; Tributes Arrive From Gavin Newsom, Hillary Clinton, Chuck Schumer, Others
Sen. Dianne Feinstein, the Democratic powerbroker who served California and her political party for more than 30 years, died Thursday night, her office has confirmed. She was 90.
James Sauls, chief of staff to Sen. Feinstein, released the following statement this morning:
“Sadly, Senator Feinstein passed away last night at her home in Washington, D.C. Her passing is a great loss for so many, from those who loved and cared for her to the people of California that she dedicated her life to serving. Senator Feinstein never backed away from a fight for what was just and right. At the same time, she was always willing to work with anyone, even those she disagreed with, if it meant bettering the lives of Californians or the betterment of our nation. There are few women who can be called senator, chairman, mayor, wife, mom and grandmother. Senator Feinstein was a force of nature who made an incredible impact on our country and her home state. She left a legacy that is undeniable and extraordinary. There is much to say about who she was and what she did, but for now, we are going to grieve the passing of our beloved boss, mentor and friend.”
Feinstein had been in ill health recently, suffering from memory issues that prompted widespread calls to step down, even within her own party. She said in February that she would not seek a fifth term in 2024.
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Her death has prompted an outpouring of tributes from colleagues in the political world. Former U.S. Senator and First Lady Hillary Clinton said in a statement, “I’m deeply saddened by the passing of Dianne Feinstein. She blazed trails for women in politics and found a life’s calling in public service. I’ll miss her greatly as a friend and colleague and send my condolences to all who loved her.”
California Gov. Gavin Newsom released the following statement: “Dianne Feinstein was many things — a powerful, trailblazing U.S. Senator; an early voice for gun control; a leader in times of tragedy and chaos. But to me, she was a dear friend, a lifelong mentor, and a role model not only for me, but to my wife and daughters for what a powerful, effective leader looks like.
She was a political giant, whose tenacity was matched by her grace. She broke down barriers and glass ceilings, but never lost her belief in the spirit of political cooperation. And she was a fighter — for the city, the state and the country she loved. Every race she won, she made history, but her story wasn’t just about being the first woman in a particular political office, it was what she did for California, and for America, with that power once she earned it. That’s what she should be remembered for.
There is simply nobody who possessed the strength, gravitas, and fierceness of Dianne Feinstein. Jennifer and I are deeply saddened by her passing, and we will mourn with her family in this difficult time.”
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D, NY) said of Feinstein on the Senate floor this morning: “She gave a voice, a platform, a model for women across the country who aspired to roles in leadership and public service who want to leave their own mark on the world, who want to make this country a better place for others. Today there are 25 women serving in this chamber, and every one of them will admit that they stand on Dianne’s shoulders.”
Feinstein, considered by some to be a centrist Democrat and to the right a far-left advocate, was the oldest sitting U.S. senator at the time of her death. Elected to the San Francisco County Board of Supervisors in 1969, she became the board’s first female president in 1978, the same year San Francisco was rocked by the assassinations of Mayor George Moscone and Supervisor Harvey Milk at City Hall by former Supervisor Dan White.
Feinstein, who found Milk’s lifeless body, was appointed to succeed him and became San Francisco’s first female mayor after serving nine years as county supervisor.
A moderate Democrat leading one of California’s most liberal cities, she went on to be a central figure in the fight for LGBTQ rights, as well as for environmental issues, gun control and reproductive rights.
Republican Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said of Feinstein, “She was an incredibly effective person at every level all the way to the Senate. Those of us who were fortunate to call Dianne our colleague can say we served alongside the longest-serving female senator in American history. Dianne was a trailblazer.”
Feinstein left her post as the Judiciary panel’s top Democrat after the 2020 elections due to her increasingly poor health. Just this year, she announced she would not serve as the Senate president pro tempore. Among the field of candidates to replace Feinstein in the Senate are Rep. Barbara Lee, Adam Schiff and Katie Porter.
Born Dianne Goldman on June 22, 1933, in San Francisco, Feinstein graduated from Stanford University in 1955 and was appointed by Gov. Pat Brown to the women’s parole board in 1961, beginning a 60-year in state and national politics.
Elected to the Senate in 1992, she beat GOP businessman and film/TV producer Michael Huffington in the closest Senate race of that year. She went on to win re-election in 1994, 2000, 2006, 2012 and 2018.
Among her early achievements in the U.S. Senate was an amendment banning sales of certain assault weapons, a bill signed into law by President Bill Clinton in 1994. The weapons ban expired after a decade. Her record also reflects a commitment other crime and justice matters, health carte, national security and the environment and natural resources.
Feinstein had a pioneering career. Along with being the first female president of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors and first female mayor of San Francisco, she was the first woman elected the to U.S. Senate from California and the first woman to serve as ranking member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, to chair the Senate Rules and Administration Committee and to chair the Senate Intelligence Committee.
She also was the first woman to preside over the inauguration of an American president, for Barack Obama’s first term in 2009.
Among the myriad awards and honors Feinstein amassed during her career were the 2020 National Peace Corps Association Congressional Leadership Award, the 2019 Center for Justice and Accountability Champion of Justice Award, the 2019 National Parks Conservation Association National Park Heritage Award, the 2018 American Bar Association Justice Award, the 2016 Ansel Adams Award from The Wilderness Society, the 2006 Grammy on the Hill Award from the Recording Academy, the 2006 William Penn Mott Jr. Park Leadership Award from National Parks Conservation Association, the 2004 Funding Hero Award from the Breast Cancer Research Foundation and the 2001 Woodrow Wilson Award for Public Service.
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