Senator Dianne Feinstein, a prominent advocate for gun control measures and a three-decade stalwart of the Senate, has passed away at the age of 90, as confirmed by her office.
“Senator Feinstein never shied away from fighting for justice and what was right. Simultaneously, she was always open to collaborating with individuals, even those with differing views, if it meant improving the lives of Californians or the betterment of our nation,” said her chief of staff, James Sauls, in a statement.
Feinstein, renowned as the oldest and longest-serving female senator and California’s longest-serving senator, had declared her retirement plans in February, amid concerns about her health.
Upon her retirement announcement, President Joe Biden praised his former Senate colleague, lauding her as “a passionate defender of civil liberties and a strong voice for national security policies that keep us safe while honoring our values.”
In late February, Feinstein missed Senate votes due to health reasons, and her spokesperson noted on March 1 that she was in California tending to a health matter and hoped to return to Washington soon.
Throughout her career, the California Democrat ardently championed gun control measures, notably the assault weapons ban signed into law by President Bill Clinton in 1994. She continued to advocate for stringent gun control laws after the ban’s expiration in 2004.
As chairwoman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, Feinstein led a comprehensive review of the CIA’s post-9/11 detention and interrogation program, resulting in legislation that prohibited the use of torture methods.
Feinstein’s moderate Democratic stance often led her to seek common ground with Republicans, drawing occasional criticism from her party’s more liberal members. She diverged from progressives on several issues, including her opposition to single-payer government healthcare and the ambitious Green New Deal climate proposal, which she considered impractical both politically and financially.
Tensions with progressives came to a head during the confirmation hearings for Supreme Court nominee Amy Coney Barrett in October 2020 when Feinstein hugged Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Lindsey Graham, a Republican, and thanked him for his handling of the hearing. This gesture triggered calls for her removal as the ranking member of the panel, and she ultimately stepped down.
Feinstein typically adhered to Senate traditions rather than advocating for significant changes, although she expressed willingness in 2021 to consider altering filibuster rules if Democrats faced difficulty passing key legislative priorities, such as voting rights reforms, gun control, and the reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act.
In recent years, there were calls for Feinstein to resign and make way for younger lawmakers. She pushed back against concerns about her mental fitness to serve, reiterating her commitment to serving Californians.
Democratic Representatives Katie Porter, Adam Schiff, and Barbara Lee have declared their candidacy for Feinstein’s Senate seat.
Feinstein wielded substantial influence in both state and national politics, notably influencing California Governor Gavin Newsom to appoint Alex Padilla as Senator after Kamala Harris’s election as vice president.
Before her election to the Senate in 1992, Feinstein’s rapid rise in San Francisco and California politics was fueled by tragedy. In 1978, she became acting mayor of San Francisco following the assassinations of Mayor George Moscone and Supervisor Harvey Milk, the first gay elected official in California. She later became the first woman elected as San Francisco’s mayor.
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Feinstein, who had been married three times, was preceded in death by her husband, Richard Blum, an investment banker who passed away the previous year. She is survived by her daughter, Katherine Feinstein, a San Francisco County Superior Court judge, her son-in-law, Rick Mariano, and her granddaughter, Eileen Feinstein Mariano.