Dianne Feinstein, the California senator whose illustrious political career spanned over three decades and paved the way for women in American politics, has passed away at the age of 90.
Feinstein, the senior-most member of the US Senate, continued to discharge her duties actively, as recently as Thursday. However, her health had been a subject of concern for several months, with questions raised about her memory and cognitive abilities.
In April, she was hospitalized following a minor fall at her residence, marking another episode in a series of health challenges she had faced.
A statement issued by Ms. Feinstein’s office confirmed her passing, revealing that she peacefully departed at her residence in Washington DC during the night.
The statement also paid tribute to her indomitable spirit and the profound impact she made on both the nation and her home state of California. It described her legacy as undeniable and extraordinary.
With her passing, the responsibility now falls on California Governor Gavin Newsom to appoint her successor. Governor Newsom had previously pledged to nominate an African American woman to complete the remainder of Feinstein’s term, which extends until 2025.
Born in 1933, Ms. Feinstein grew up in San Francisco and earned her degree from Stanford University. Her journey in public service commenced with her election to the San Francisco County Board of Supervisors in 1969. This marked the outset of a remarkable career that saw her ascend to the position of San Francisco’s first female mayor and eventually led her to the US Senate in 1992.
Despite her prior announcement of retirement plans set for next year, Dianne Feinstein had resisted mounting calls for her to step down. Several notable Democrats, including Congress members Adam Schiff and Katie Porter, had already expressed their intentions to vie for her Senate seat.
Following her passing, US President Joe Biden paid tribute, stating that Ms. Feinstein “made history in so many ways, and our country will benefit from her legacy for generations.”
Earlier in the year, Feinstein’s absence from Capitol Hill stretched to nearly three months due to a bout of shingles. Upon her return, she assumed lighter duties and utilized a wheelchair to navigate the US Capitol. At times, she appeared disoriented during interviews and in committee hearings or floor votes.
Dianne Feinstein was renowned for her unwavering advocacy of gun control measures and her steadfast support for the assault weapons ban, which was signed into law by President Bill Clinton in 1994. Her commitment to these issues left an indelible mark on American policymaking.
In a tragic turn of events, Dianne Feinstein assumed the role of San Francisco’s mayor in 1978, following the assassination of her predecessor, George Moscone, along with city councilman Harvey Milk.
Recalling the harrowing moments, she described rushing to Mayor Moscone’s office and discovering his life-threatening gunshot wound while searching for his pulse. This experience left an enduring impact on her.
During her tenure as a senator, Ms. Feinstein achieved numerous milestones. She broke barriers by becoming the first woman to chair the influential Senate Intelligence Committee. In this capacity, she spearheaded an extensive investigation into the CIA’s controversial interrogation program for foreign terrorists in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks in 2001. The review ultimately resulted in legislation prohibiting the use of “enhanced interrogation techniques,” such as waterboarding, on terrorism suspects.
Feinstein also blazed a trail as the first woman to serve on the Senate Judiciary Committee and later as its first female chair. Additionally, she became the inaugural female chair of the Senate Rules Committee.
Reflecting on the challenges faced by women in society, she candidly remarked in a 2017 interview with CNN, “Being a woman in our society even today is difficult.” She noted the progress made in the political arena, from just two women senators when she initially ran for office in 1992 to 24 at the time of the interview, with the expectation of that number continuing to rise.
On Capitol Hill, Feinstein was recognized as a centrist figure, willing to collaborate with Republican counterparts. However, this approach occasionally drew criticism from more left-leaning members within her own party.
Colleagues from both sides of the political spectrum offered heartfelt tributes. California Democrat Nancy Pelosi described her as a “pioneering woman leader” and asserted that Dianne’s exceptional career would inspire countless women and girls to pursue public service for generations to come. Republican minority leader Mitch McConnell praised her “dogged advocacy and diligent service” while speaking on the Senate floor.
In recent years, concerns about her declining health and cognitive abilities prompted calls for her retirement, spotlighting broader discussions about the aging of American politicians. One widely circulated video featured individuals around her instructing her to “just say aye” during a committee vote.
Dianne Feinstein is survived by her daughter, Katherine, who reportedly held power of attorney over her mother’s legal affairs amidst mounting family tensions. Her husband, investment banker Richard Blum, passed away last year.