Dianne Feinstein U.S. senator has died at 90, the longest-serving female U.S. senator in history

Dianne Feinstein U.S. senator has died at 90, the longest-serving female U.S. senator in history

Dianne Feinstein, who held the record for the longest-serving female U.S. senator in history with three decades in the Senate, has passed away at the age of 90 after a period of declining health, her office announced on Thursday night. Feinstein, a Democrat, passed away at her residence in Washington.

Her death grants California Democratic Governor Gavin Newsom the authority to appoint a replacement to serve the remainder of Feinstein’s term, ensuring the Democratic majority in the Senate until early January 2025. Newsom had publicly pledged to appoint a Black woman in the event of Feinstein’s departure from office, and he reiterated this commitment on NBC’s “Meet the Press” earlier this month. The interim appointee will not be one of the candidates running for the seat in next year’s election.

Feinstein’s passing occurs at a crucial time as federal funding is on the verge of expiring, and Congress is deadlocked over how to prevent a government shutdown. Nevertheless, Senate Democrats will maintain their majority even in her absence.

A former mayor of San Francisco, Feinstein played a prominent role in California politics for many years and became a national figure within the Democratic Party after her election to the U.S. Senate in 1992. She achieved several significant milestones in her political career and wielded considerable influence on Capitol Hill, particularly in the passage of the 1994 federal assault weapons ban and the release of the 2014 CIA torture report. Feinstein also served on the Senate Intelligence and Judiciary committees.

In her later years, questions arose about Feinstein’s health and her decision to remain in office, leading to scrutiny, especially given the narrow party margins in Congress.

Dianne Feinstein’s absence from the Senate, which began with a hospitalization for shingles in February, stirred complaints from Democrats due to its impact on the confirmation of Democratic-appointed judicial nominees. When she returned to Capitol Hill three months later, it was revealed that she had faced multiple complications during her recovery, including Ramsay Hunt syndrome and encephalitis. A fall in August briefly resulted in another hospitalization.

Feinstein, who was the Senate’s oldest member at the time of her death, also faced questions about her mental acuity and ability to lead. She addressed these concerns by emphasizing her effectiveness as a representative for California.

Nevertheless, there was widespread speculation that Feinstein would retire rather than seek reelection in 2024. Several Democrats had already announced their candidacies for her seat, even before she officially declared that she would not run for reelection in February, stating, “The time has come.”

Feinstein received fond remembrances from her colleagues following her passing.

Dianne Feinstein’s prolonged absence from the Senate, which began with her hospitalization for shingles in February, sparked criticism from Democrats due to the impact it had on the confirmation of Democratic-appointed judicial nominees. When she eventually returned to Capitol Hill three months later, it was revealed that her recovery had been complicated by multiple health issues, including Ramsay Hunt syndrome and encephalitis. In August, she suffered a fall that led to a brief hospitalization.

Feinstein, who held the distinction of being the Senate’s oldest member at the time of her passing, also faced scrutiny regarding her mental acuity and capacity to lead. She responded to these concerns by emphasizing her effectiveness as a representative for California.

Nonetheless, there was widespread speculation that Feinstein would choose to retire rather than seek reelection in 2024. Even before she officially announced her decision not to run for reelection in February, several Democrats had already declared their candidacies for her Senate seat, noting that “the time has come.”

Following her passing, Feinstein received warm and fond remembrances from her fellow colleagues in the Senate.

Dianne Feinstein U.S. senator has died at 90

“Dianne Feinstein is not like the others. She’s in a class of her own,” remarked Senator Chuck Schumer, later expressing, “America is a better place because of Sen. Dianne Feinstein.”

President Joe Biden, who had been a colleague of Feinstein’s for over 15 years, referred to her as a “cherished friend.”

Dianne Feinstein, a San Francisco native and prominent leader

Dianne Feinstein, a San Francisco native and prominent leader, was born in 1933 and graduated from Stanford University in 1955. Her political journey began when she served as a San Francisco County supervisor. In 1978, she assumed the role of the city’s mayor following the tragic assassination of Mayor George Moscone and Supervisor Harvey Milk, California’s first openly gay elected official.

Feinstein rarely discussed the fateful day when Moscone and Milk were shot, but in a 2017 interview with CNN’s Dana Bash, she opened up about the traumatic events. At that time, she was a member of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors, and the assassin, Dan White, had been a friend and colleague.

Feinstein recalled the chilling moment, saying, “The door to the office opened, and he came in, and I said, ‘Dan?’ I heard the doors slam, I heard the shots, I smelled the cordite.” It was Feinstein who made the public announcement of the double assassination, and she later made history as the first female mayor of San Francisco.

Throughout her political career, Feinstein achieved numerous historic milestones. Prior to becoming mayor in 1978, she had already broken ground as the first female chair of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors. In Washington, as California’s first woman elected to the U.S. Senate, she continued to make history. She became the first woman to serve on the Senate Judiciary Committee, the first female chair of the Senate Rules and Administration Committee, and the first woman to chair the Senate Intelligence Committee.

Feinstein also played a significant role on the influential Senate Appropriations Committee and held the title of ranking member of the Senate Judiciary Committee from 2017 to 2021. In November 2022, she had the opportunity to become the president pro tempore of the Senate, the third-in-line to the presidency. However, she declined the position due to her husband’s recent passing.

Reflecting on her experiences as a woman in politics during her 2017 interview with Bash, Feinstein acknowledged the challenges, stating, “Look, being a woman in our society even today is difficult,” particularly in the political arena. She also noted the progress made, saying, “We went from two women senators when I ran for office in 1992 to 24 today – and I know that number will keep climbing.”

 

Feinstein expressed her pleasure in witnessing more women entering the Senate, stating in November 2022, “It has been a great pleasure to watch more and more women walk the halls of the Senate.”

Dianne Feinstein U.S. senator has died at 90

Dianne Feinstein was known for her prominent roles in advocating for gun control and leading investigations into the torture program.

Despite her roots in one of the most famously liberal cities in the United States, Feinstein developed a reputation in the Senate for her willingness to collaborate across the aisle with Republicans, even though this sometimes drew criticism from progressives.

In a 2017 interview with CNN, Feinstein emphasized her belief in the importance of finding a center in the political spectrum to effectively govern a diverse nation like the United States. She recognized the country’s diversity, encompassing various races, religions, backgrounds, education levels, and more.

Among Feinstein’s notable achievements listed in her Senate biography are her instrumental role in the enactment of the federal Assault Weapons Ban in 1994, a law that prohibited the sale, manufacture, and import of military-style assault weapons (although the ban has since lapsed). Another significant accomplishment was her leadership in the production of the influential 2014 torture report, a comprehensive six-year review of the CIA’s detention and interrogation program during the George W. Bush era, revealing previously undisclosed details about the program.

Feinstein’s Senate career even left an impact on pop culture when she was portrayed by actress Annette Bening in the 2019 film “The Report,” which delved into the CIA’s use of torture following the September 11 attacks and the efforts to make those practices public.

In November 2020, Feinstein announced that she would step down from her position as the ranking Democrat on the Senate Judiciary Committee the following year. This decision came in response to sharp criticism from liberal activists regarding her handling of the hearings for then-President Donald Trump’s Supreme Court nominee, Amy Coney Barrett. While Democratic senators lacked the ability to block Barrett’s nomination in the Republican-led Senate on their own, liberal activists were displeased when Feinstein appeared to undermine their efforts to portray the nomination process as illegitimate by praising then-Judiciary Chairman Lindsey Graham, a South Carolina Republican, for his leadership.

Feinstein stated at the time that she would continue to serve as a senior Democrat on various committees, including Judiciary, Intelligence, Appropriations, and Rules and Administration, where she would focus on priorities such as gun safety, criminal justice, and immigration.

(Information collected by CNN)