Dianne Feinstein, California senator who broke glass ceilings, dies at 90

At the age of 90, Sen. Dianne Feinstein passed away. During her more than three decades in the U.S. Senate, she broke down glass barriers.

According to Senate records, Feinstein gave her final vote in the Senate late on Thursday morning. Her chief of staff, James Sauls, said in a statement that she passed away at her home in Washington, D.C., on Thursday night.

Sauls remarked that Feinstein “never faltered in 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 improving Californians’ lives or our country as a whole.”

She was the longest-serving senator from California and the longest-serving senator of any gender in the Senate. However, concerns about her health have cast a shadow on her governing record in recent months and years.

The legacy of Feinstein

Feinstein served as the first female chair of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence for six years as well as the Senate Rules and Administration Committee. Feinstein held the position of the top Democrat on the Senate Judiciary Committee from 2017 until 2021. She was the first woman to hold that position.

Since joining the Senate in 1992, Feinstein has battled for what she calls “sensible gun laws,” improved the water infrastructure in her state and the environment, and supported same-sex marriage and LGBTQ+ rights.

In 1994, Feinstein drafted and contributed to the passage of the federal assault weapons prohibition. Along with other Democrats, including President Joe Biden, Feinstein pushed for the law’s reinstatement after it expired in 2004.

The senator from California also contributed to the creation of the national Amber Alert system, which alerts people to missing children.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein, a Democrat from California, arrives for a Judiciary Committee hearing on Capitol Hill, December 6, 2017, in Washington. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, a Democrat from California, arrives for a Judiciary Committee hearing on Capitol Hill, December 6, 2017, in Washington.

A contentious, hotly contested 6,700-page study on the CIA’s interrogation techniques employed after the 9/11 terrorist attacks was published by Feinstein in 2014 while she served as chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee. The report, which took five years to write and publish, found that the CIA’s enhanced interrogation methods did not result in the gathering of crucial intelligence that thwarted a plot, that the agency misled lawmakers and the public about the program’s effectiveness, and that the program was much more brutal than it had been represented to be.

Early in his presidency, President Obama abolished the activities depicted in it. Feinstein’s major objective in releasing the report, however, was to ensure that the CIA’s early post-9/11 activities would remain in the past by shining a harsh light on them. When asked at the time by CBS News if it was appropriate to revisit what had been done given that the methods employed were no longer in use, she replied, “Read the report, and you tell me if you think this is how you want the country to behave.”

She was the daughter of a physician and a former model, and she was born in San Francisco on June 22, 1933. She earned her bachelor’s degree from Stanford University in 1955.

In the 1970s, she served on the San Francisco Board of Supervisors. On November 28, 1978, when Mayor George Moscone and fellow Supervisor Harvey Milk were murdered and killed at City Hall by a bitter former colleague, she shot to national fame. Feinstein observed the shooter exiting the supervisors’ offices after hearing the gunfire.

“Everyone vanished as he passed. I moved past the row of offices belonging to supervisors. In a 2017 interview with CNN, she stated, “I walked into one and found Harvey Milk; I put my finger in a bullet hole trying to get a pulse.” However, it was the first time I had ever witnessed a shooting death, and you can always tell when someone has passed away.

Feinstein was the one to inform the public of the catastrophe.

Feinstein took over as mayor after Moscone and served for ten years. Prior to winning a special election for the Senate seat in 1992, she ran unsuccessfully for governor in 1990. This election cycle is regarded as the “Year of the Woman” because it saw a record number of female candidates elected to Congress.

Feinstein’s health struggles

Earlier this year, Feinstein missed roughly three months of Senate business due to a challenging case of shingles and consequences from the illness. Midway through May, Feinstein returned to the Senate and made her first public appearance since February. She was rolled into the Capitol while having one eye almost completely closed and appearing feeble. She stated in a statement that she had made “significant progress” but that she was “still experiencing some side effects from the shingles virus.”

Her office announced a few days later that her health problems weren’t as minor as initially stated. The 89-year-old Democrat was afflicted from Ramsay Hunt syndrome as well as encephalitis, or brain swelling.

She claimed during a chat with reporters that she was unaware of her extended absence. She claimed, “I haven’t been gone,” as reported by the Los Angeles Times and Slate. Feinstein responded, “No, I’ve been here,” when asked if she had been working from home. I’ve cast my ballot.

Democrats had become impatient with her prolonged absence from Washington due to health issues as President Biden’s judicial nominees’ confirmations slowed down in her absence from the Judiciary Committee. In a Senate that was closely divided, Democrats needed every vote they could get, which led some members of her own party to call for her resignation.

In early August, she was also briefly admitted to the hospital after falling at her San Francisco home.

Feinstein’s longevity has been under scrutiny in recent years due to her advancing age and apparent memory loss. She made the decision to not run for reelection in early 2023, sparking a political fight for her seat in 2024.

Who will replace Feinstein?

According to California law, Democratic Governor Gavin Newsom can name a replacement until the 2024 election, and a number of well-known Democrats have already declared their intention to compete to succeed Feinstein.

Even before Feinstein revealed her intention to step down at the conclusion of current term, Rep. Katie Porter of Orange County was the first to declare her intention to run for the seat. Reps. Barbara Lee and Adam Schiff both declared their intentions to run for the position.

Tributes to Feinstein

The House and Senate observed a moment of silence, and the flags at the White House and the Capitol flew at half-staff. On Friday, the Senate covered Feinstein’s desk with white roses and draped a black crepe cloth over her seat in the chamber. Chuck Schumer, the majority leader in the Senate, occasionally lost his voice as he paid tribute to Feinstein on the Senate floor.

“We lost a giant in the Senate this morning. One of the most remarkable individuals to have ever served in the Senate and charmed the nation was Sen. Dianne Feinstein. She was a terrific human being with a ton of amazing, lovely attributes, according to Schumer. She was wise. She had power. She had courage. She showed sympathy. However, her incredible integrity stood out as perhaps the quality that shone out the most. Her moral character was flawless. Her character shone like a beacon throughout the Senate and the entire nation, inspiring everyone to follow in her footsteps.

“We look at that desk, and we know what we have lost,” Schumer remarked, pointing to her empty desk. The mark of a hero, according to him, is someone who puts up with hardships for others and battles for them against all difficulties. And someone who sticks by your side to fight the good fight on good days and bad is a hallmark of a friend.

He continued, “Dianne Feinstein was all of this — and more: a friend, a hero for so many, a leader who changed… the nature of the Senate, and who changed the fabric of the nation, America, for the better.” His voice trembled as he said these words.


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