Sen. Dianne Feinstein of CA Dies at 90 09/30 09:08
WASHINGTON (AP) -- U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California, a centrist
Democrat and champion of liberal causes who was elected to the Senate in 1992
and broke gender barriers throughout her long career in local and national
politics, has died. She was 90.
Feinstein died on Thursday night at her home in Washington, D.C., her office
said on Friday. Tributes poured in all day. Opening the Senate floor, Majority
Leader Chuck Schumer announced that "we lost a giant in the Senate."
"As the nation mourns this tremendous loss, we know how many lives she
impacted and how many glass ceilings she shattered along the way," Schumer
said, his voice cracking.
President Joe Biden, who served with Feinstein for years in the Senate,
called her "a pioneering American," a "true trailblazer" and a "cherished
California Gov. Gavin Newsom will appoint a temporary replacement, and there
is sure to be a spirited battle to succeed her.
Feinstein, the oldest sitting U.S. senator, was a passionate advocate for
liberal priorities important to her state -- including environmental
protection, reproductive rights and gun control -- but was also known as a
pragmatic lawmaker who reached out to Republicans and sought middle ground.
Her death came after a bout of shingles sidelined her for more than two
months earlier this year -- an absence that drew frustration from her most
liberal critics and launched an unsuccessful attempt by Democrats to
temporarily replace her on the Senate Judiciary Committee. When she returned to
the Senate in May, she was frail and using a wheelchair, voting only
On Friday, her Senate desk was draped in black and topped with a vase of
white roses. Senators gave tearful tributes as members of the California House
delegation stood in the back of the chamber and former House Speaker Nancy
Pelosi sat in the gallery with Feinstein's daughter, Katherine.
Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell was one of several Republicans who
gave tributes to the Democratic icon, calling her his friend. "Dianne was a
trailblazer, and her beloved home state of California and our entire nation are
better for her dogged advocacy and diligent service," McConnell said.
Biden said in a statement, "Dianne made her mark on everything from national
security to the environment to protecting civil liberties. "Our country will
benefit from her legacy for generations."
Former president Barack Obama also saluted her as "a trailblazer," and
former President Bill Clinton called her a champion "of civil rights and civil
liberties, environmental protection and strong national security."
She was elected to the San Francisco Board of Supervisors in 1969 and became
its first female board president in 1978, the year Mayor George Moscone was
gunned down alongside Supervisor Harvey Milk at City Hall by Dan White, a
disgruntled former supervisor. Feinstein found Milk's body.
After Moscone's death, Feinstein became San Francisco's first female mayor.
In the Senate, she was one of California's first two female senators, the first
woman to head the Senate Intelligence Committee and the first woman to serve as
the Judiciary Committee's top Democrat.
Although Feinstein was not always embraced by the feminist movement, her
experiences colored her outlook through her five decades in politics.
"I recognize that women have had to fight for everything they have gotten,
every right," she told The Associated Press in 2005, as the Judiciary Committee
prepared to hold hearings on President George W. Bush's nomination of John
Roberts to replace Sandra Day O'Connor on the Supreme Court.
"So I must tell you, I try to look out for women's rights. I also try to
solve problems as I perceive them, with legislation, and reaching out where I
can, and working across the aisle," she said.
Feinstein's bipartisan efforts helped her notch legislative wins throughout
her career. But it also proved to be a liability in her later years in
Congress, as her state became more liberal and as the Senate and the electorate
became increasingly polarized.
A fierce debater who did not suffer fools, the California senator was long
known for her verbal zingers and sharp comebacks when challenged on the issues
about which she was most fervent. But she lost that edge in her later years in
the Senate, as her health visibly declined and she sometimes became confused
when answering questions or speaking publicly. In February 2023, she said she
would not run for a sixth term the next year. And within weeks of that
announcement, she was absent for the Senate for more than two months as she
recovered from a bout of shingles.
Amid the concerns about her health, Feinstein stepped down as the top
Democrat on the Judiciary panel after the 2020 elections, just as her party was
about to take the majority. In 2023, she said she would not serve as the Senate
president pro tempore, or the most senior member of the majority party, even
though she was in line to do so. The president pro tempore opens the Senate
every day and holds other ceremonial duties.
One of Feinstein's most significant legislative accomplishments was early in
her career, when the Senate approved her amendment to ban manufacturing and
sales of certain types of assault weapons as part of a crime bill that
President Bill Clinton signed into law in 1994. Though the assault weapons ban
expired 10 years later and was never renewed or replaced, it was a poignant win
after her career had been significantly shaped by gun violence.
Feinstein remembered finding Milk's body, her finger slipping into a bullet
hole as she felt for a pulse. It was a story she would retell often in the
years ahead as she pushed for stricter gun control measures.
She had little patience for Republicans and others who opposed her on that
issue, though she was often challenged. In 1993, during debate on the assault
weapons ban, Sen. Larry Craig, R-Idaho, accused her of having an insufficient
knowledge of guns and the gun control issue.
Feinstein spoke fiercely of the violence she'd lived through in San
Francisco and retorted: ''Senator, I know something about what firearms can do."
Two decades later, after 20 children and six educators were killed in a
horrific school shooting in Newtown, Connecticut, first-term Republican Sen.
Ted Cruz of Texas similarly challenged Feinstein during debate on legislation
that would have permanently banned the weapons.
"I'm not a sixth grader," Feinstein snapped back at the much younger Cruz --
a moment that later went viral. She added: "It's fine you want to lecture me on
the Constitution. I appreciate it. Just know I've been here a long time."
Feinstein became mayor of San Francisco after the 1978 slayings of Moscone
and Milk, leading the city during one of the most turbulent periods in its
history. Even her critics credited Feinstein with a calming influence, and she
won reelection on her own to two four-year terms.
With her success and growing recognition statewide came visibility on the
national political stage.
In 1984, Feinstein was viewed as a vice presidential possibility for Walter
Mondale but faced questions about the business dealings of her husband, Richard
Blum. In 1990, she used news footage of her announcement of the assassinations
of Moscone and Milk in a television ad that helped her win the Democratic
nomination for California governor, making her the first female major-party
gubernatorial nominee in the state's history.
Although she narrowly lost the general election to Republican Pete Wilson,
the stage was set for her election to the Senate two years later to fill the
Senate seat Wilson had vacated to run for governor.
Feinstein campaigned jointly with Barbara Boxer, who was running for the
state's other U.S. Senate seat, and both won, benefiting from positive news
coverage and excitement over their historic race. California had never had a
female U.S. senator, and female candidates and voters had been galvanized by
the Supreme Court hearings in which the all-male Senate Judiciary Committee
questioned Anita Hill about her sexual harassment allegations against nominee
Feinstein was appointed to the Judiciary panel and eventually the Senate
Intelligence Committee, becoming the chairperson in 2009. She was the first
woman to lead the intelligence panel, a high-profile perch that gave her a
central oversight role over U.S. intelligence controversies, setbacks and
triumphs, from the killing of Osama bin Laden to leaks about National Security
Under Feinstein's leadership, the intelligence committee conducted a
wide-ranging, five-year investigation into CIA interrogation techniques during
President George W. Bush's administration, including waterboarding of terrorism
suspects at secret overseas prisons. The resulting 6,300-page "torture report"
concluded among other things that waterboarding and other "enhanced
interrogation techniques" did not provide key evidence in the hunt for bin
Laden. A 525-page executive summary was released in late 2014, but the rest of
the report has remained classified.
The Senate investigation was full of intrigue at the time, including
documents that mysteriously disappeared and accusations traded between the
Senate and the CIA that the other was stealing information. The drama was
captured in a 2019 movie about the investigation called "The Report," and actor
Annette Bening was nominated for a Golden Globe for her portrayal of Feinstein.
In the years since, Feinstein has continued to push aggressively for
eventual declassification of the report.
"It's my very strong belief that one day this report should be
declassified," Feinstein said. "This must be a lesson learned: that torture
Feinstein sometimes frustrated liberals by adopting moderate or hawkish
positions that put her at odds with the left wing of the Democratic Party, as
well as with the more liberal Boxer, who retired from the Senate in 2017.
Feinstein defended the Obama administration's expansive collection of
Americans' phone and email records as necessary for protecting the country, for
example, even as other Democratic senators voiced protests. "It's called
protecting America," Feinstein said then.
That tension escalated during Donald Trump's presidency, when many Democrats
had little appetite for compromise. Feinstein became the top Democrat on the
Judiciary panel in 2016 and led her party's messaging through three Supreme
Court nominations -- a role that angered liberal advocacy groups that wanted to
see a more aggressive partisan in charge.
Feinstein closed out confirmation hearings for Justice Amy Coney Barrett
with an embrace of Senate Judiciary Committee Chair Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., and
a public thanks to him for a job well done. "This has been one of the best set
of hearings that I've participated in," Feinstein said at the end of the
Liberal advocacy groups that had fiercely opposed Barrett's nomination to
replace the late liberal icon Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg were furious and
called for her to step down from the committee leadership.
A month later, Feinstein announced she would remain on the committee but
step down as the top Democrat. The senator, then 87 years old, did not say why.
In a statement, she said she would "continue to do my utmost to bring about
positive change in the coming years."
Feinstein was born on June 22, 1933. Her father, Leon Goldman, was a
prominent surgeon and medical school professor in San Francisco, but her mother
was an abusive woman with a violent temper that was often directed at Feinstein
and her two younger sisters.
Feinstein graduated from Stanford University in 1955, with a bachelor's
degree in history. She married young and was a divorced single mother of her
daughter, Katherine, in 1960, at a time when such a status was still unusual.
In 1961, Feinstein was appointed by then-Gov. Pat Brown to the women's
parole board, on which she served before running for the San Francisco Board of
Supervisors. Typical of the era, much of the early coverage of her entrance
into public life focused on her appearance rather than her experience and
Feinstein's second husband, Bert Feinstein, was 19 years older than she, but
she described the marriage as "a 10" and kept his name even after his death
from cancer in 1978. In 1980, she married investment banker Richard Blum, and
thanks to his wealth, she was one of the richest members of the Senate. He died
in February 2022.
In addition to her daughter, Feinstein has a granddaughter, Eileen, and