Dianne Feinstein, California’s longest-serving senator, dies at 90


U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California has died at age 90, two sources familiar with the matter told NBC News on Friday.

Feinstein, a Democrat, was the oldest member of the Senate. She had the longest tenure of any woman in the chamber, and any senator from California.

Her death ends a boundary-pushing political career that spanned more than half a century, which was studded with major legislative achievements on issues including gun control and the environment.

In Feinstein’s final years, she had increasingly visible health and memory issues, and a conflict with her fellow Democrats over her refusal to step down.

She had planned to retire at the end of her current term in 2024.

Feinstein’s death leaves vacant her powerful Senate seat, requiring Gov. Gavin Newsom will appoint Feinstein’s temporary successor. After two failed bids for mayor, she was elected president of San Francisco’s board of supervisors in 1978, becoming the first woman to hold the title.

Dianne Feinstein, California’s longest-serving senator, dies at 90

Feinstein was made acting mayor of the city later that year, after then-Mayor George Moscone and Harvey Milk, her colleague on the board of supervisors, were assassinated by Dan White, a former member of the same board.

In later interviews, Feinstein recalled finding Milk’s body and searching for a pulse by putting her finger in a bullet hole.

Feinstein was the first to announce the murders to the press. The tragedy boosted Feinstein’s career and she was named mayor of San Francisco a week after.

“I never really talk about this,” Feinstein said with a sigh when asked about the murders in a CNN interview in 2017.

Candidate Dianne Feinstein celebrates theprimary win June 2, 1992.

John O’Hara | San Francisco Chronicle | Getty Images

Her streak of firsts continued at the national level. Feinstein lost a gubernatorial bid in 1990, but two years later won a special election to the U.S. Senate, becoming California’s first female senator.

Weeks later, the state’s second female senator, Barbara Boxer, was sworn into office, making California the first state in the U.S. to be represented in the Senate by two women.

Their 1992 elections helped define the “Year of the Woman,” in which four Democratic women were newly elected to the Senate — more than doubling the chamber’s female representation.

In the Senate, Feinstein clinched some of her biggest legislative achievements. She wrote the 1994 assault weapon ban and championed it, a historic bill that was also a continuation to her career-long efforts to enforce stricter gun control. The ban expired in 2004 during the George W. Bush administration. The ban expired in 2004 during the administration of George W. Bush.

She also sponsored bills that protect millions of acres of California’s desert, worked to create a nationwide AMBER alert network, helped reauthorize the Violence Against Women Act and fought for the release of a lengthy report detailing the CIA’s torture practices, among other accomplishments.

Sen. Getty Images

Over her three decades in the Senate, Feinstein has generally been seen as a political moderate in her party. Unnamed Democratic colleagues expressed concern about Feinstein’s apparent decline in mental ability in a damning article published by the San Francisco Chronicle on April 20, 2022. Feinstein acknowledged that her husband Richard Blum’s cancer battle had caused her to go through a “painful and distracting period” but defended her ability as a politician.