U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., at a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on judicial nominations on Capitol Hill on Sept. 6, 2023. (Drew Angerer/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON — U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein died Thursday night in her home in Washington, D.C.
The California Democrat was 90 and had announced in February she would not run for reelection in 2024.
“She left a legacy that is undeniable and extraordinary,” her chief of staff, James Sauls, said in a statement. “Senator Feinstein was a force of nature who made an incredible impact on our country and her home state.”
Feinstein last voted early Thursday, but missed votes later in the day. Her death was first reported by Punchbowl News.
President Joe Biden said that Feinstein “was a historic figure, and a great friend,” according to White House pool reports.
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer of New York, holding back tears, said that the Senate is grieving, and praised Feinstein for her work as the longest-serving woman in the Senate.
“The sign of a leader is someone who dedicates the whole of their spirit for a cause greater than themselves,” he said on the Senate floor. “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.”
Her death brings Senate Democrats’ slim majority to 50, and, until her replacement is named, could make it difficult for the Biden administration to continue approving federal judges. Feinstein served on the Senate Judiciary Committee.
As Congress scrambles to avert a looming partial government shutdown, two more Democratic senators — Tina Smith of Minnesota and Debbie Stabenow of Michigan — are isolating from testing positive for COVID-19. More than two dozen Senate Democrats this week have called for Democratic Sen. Bob Menendez of New Jersey to resign following a federal indictment to charges of bribery, although he has said he will not step down.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky said that people and the Senate will “remember Dianne’s devoted public service.”
Feinstein was first elected to Congress in 1992. She served as the first woman to chair the Senate Rules Committee and Senate Intelligence Committee. She also wrote the 1994 federal assault weapons law that temporarily led to a 10-year ban on certain semi-automatic weapons.
In May, she returned to the Senate after suffering an extended case of shingles and using a wheelchair, among calls from some Democrats that she retire due to her poor health. She rejected that criticism. “I have returned to Washington and am prepared to resume my duties in the Senate,” she said at the time.
California Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom will pick her replacement until the 2024 election.
“She was a political giant, whose tenacity was matched by her grace. She broke down barriers and glass ceilings, but never lost her belief in the spirit of political cooperation,” Newsom wrote on X, formerly Twitter.
Newsom has promised that if he were to pick a replacement for Feinstein’s seat, it would be a Black woman, as there currently is not a Black woman serving in the U.S. Senate. There are currently three House Democrats running for her seat, Reps. Adam Schiff, Katie Porter and Barbara Lee.
The House Rules Committee met Friday morning on a bill to temporarily fund the government to avoid a partial government shutdown. GOP Chair Tom Cole of Oklahoma held a moment of silence for the California senator. Government funding is set to expire Saturday at midnight.
The top Democrat on the committee, James McGovern of Massachusetts, praised Feinstein’s career, which began in the1960s.
“She was a great leader, a great fighter for the rights of women, for all people in this country,” he said.
Members of Congress quickly took to social media to commend Feinstein for her work. Republican Sens. Marco Rubio of Florida and Marsha Blackburn of Tennessee gave their condolences on X, formerly Twitter.
“Senator Feinstein was a political pioneer with a historic career of public service,” Rubio wrote. “Intelligent, hard working & always treated everyone with courtesy & respect.”
Republican Sen. Chuck Grassley of Iowa, who worked with Feinstein for years on the Senate Judiciary Committee, praised her work as a member of the Senate Caucus on International Narcotics Control.
“During the time I was Judiciary chairman and she was the ranking Democrat we had a wonderful working relationship,” he said in a statement. “She was a true public servant. Barbara and I send our condolences and prayers to the Feinstein family.”
Feinstein was also the first woman to sit on the Senate Judiciary Committee.
Several senators called Feinstein a “trailblazer.”
Republican Maine Sen. Susan Collins said Feinstein’s career was filled with many firsts.
Feinstein was the first woman to be president of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors, the first woman to be mayor of San Francisco, and the first woman elected to the Senate from California.
She became the mayor of San Francisco after Mayor George Moscone was assassinated in 1978.
“She was a pioneer and a strong and dignified leader,” Collins said. “Dianne was the longest-serving woman in the Senate history, had a career marked by many firsts.”
Senate Appropriations Chair Patty Murray of Washington noted that Feinstein’s last vote was to advance a key spending bill to keep the government funded past the Saturday midnight deadline.
“She voted to make sure that our country would continue to move forward and not shut down,” Murray said. “That was Dianne … she cared about her country.”
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