Dianne Feinstein, longest serving woman in the Senate, has died at 90


Sen. Dianne F. Feinstein (D-Calif) speaks at a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing in July 2022.

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Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif) speaks at a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing in July 2022.

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Sen. NPR confirmed that Dianne Feinstein died today. She was 90 years old. She was 90 years old.

Feinstein’s rise in politics began on Nov. 27, 1978, when her city was jolted by two political assassinations at City Hall. As president of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors, she announced the news to a shocked press corps.

“As President of the Board of Supervisors, it is my duty to announce that both Mayor

Moscone and Supervisor [George] Milk have been shot and killed,” Feinstein said in a firm but clearly stunned voice.[Harvey]At that moment, Feinstein became interim mayor and went on to win election and later reelection, serving as mayor until 1988.

Leading San Francisco after tragedy

Former San Francisco Mayor Willie Brown – a longtime political ally of hers – said Feinstein’s handling of the assassinations crisis cemented her reputation.

“It was a dramatic demonstration of how in the face of total and complete disaster, somebody could stand up to settle the ship,” Brown said in 2022.

After the city hall assassinations, Mayor Feinstein signed a local gun control ordinance, angering a fringe gun rights organization called the White Panthers. The White Panthers, a group of groups that were unhappy with Mayor Feinstein’s progrowth, probusiness, and other moderate policies, collected enough signatures in 1983 to put a recall on the ballot. The recall was unsuccessful, and Feinstein won reelection easily later in 1983.
Supervisor Dianne Feinstein, running for mayor of San Francisco October 1971.

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Dianne Feinstein, Supervisor of San Francisco, running for mayor in October 1971.

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As mayor, Feinstein led from the middle, winning the support of business groups, unions representing law enforcement officers, and conservative voters in the city. Her moderate style of governance often angered San Francisco’s liberal activists. She vetoed a 1982 bill that would have given same-sex couples the right to form domestic partnerships, entitling to them city benefits and hospital visitation rights. She also refused to sign “comparable worth” legislation guaranteeing women equal pay to men who work similar jobs.

In a 2001 interview with C-SPAN, Feinstein attributed her political philosophy to her upbringing.

“My mother was a Democrat. My father was Goldwater Republican. So we had a split family,” Feinstein said.

Achieving national standing

In 1984, San Francisco hosted the Democratic National Convention. Feinstein was featured on the cover

Time magazine

and she made it to the shortlist for Walter Mondale, the presidential nominee. Under Ronald Reagan, the federal government largely ignored it. In the mid-1980s San Francisco spent more money on AIDS in comparison to the federal government. “And that really goes to her leadership and a great credit to her,” Volberding said.

Election to the Senate

In 1990, after leaving the mayor’s office, Feinstein ran for governor. She narrowly lost to Republican Senator Pete Wilson. The political climate changed a year after the Senate confirmed Clarence Thomas as Supreme Court nominee.
Senator Feinstein celebrating her victory in the Democratic Party primaries of June 1992.

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Feinstein, a Senate candidate from the Democratic Party, celebrates her victory in the Democratic Party’s primary in June 1992.

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When law professor Anita Hill accused Thomas of sexual misconduct when they worked together, members of the Judiciary Committee, including Democratic Sen. Howell Heflin of Alabama, questioned Hill’s integrity and motivation.

“Are you a scorned woman? Do you have an aggressive attitude in the area of civil right?” Sen. Heflin drawled.

Feinstein used those widely criticized hearings as a springboard to the U.S. Senate.

“Many people took a look at that all-male Judiciary Committee and frankly felt they badly botched the job,” Feinstein said campaigning in 1992. She wanted to write a woman’s abortion right into federal law. And if he vetoes it, we must override that veto,” she said.

Feinstein won the Senate seat, making history as part of the so-called Year of the Woman.In Washington, she advocated gun control, overcoming stiff odds to pass a federal ban on assault weapons in 1994. She almost lost her reelection in the following year. But she developed a reputation as a workhorse, someone who did her homework, and wasn’t afraid to rock the boat.
Report on torture by the CIA

In 2014, over objections from the Obama administration, she took to the Senate floor to release a comprehensive report on torture by the CIA following the Sept. 11 attacks.

“Releasing this report is an important step to restore our values and show the world that we are, in fact, a just and lawful society,” Feinstein said.

The 500-page summary report by the Intelligence Committee Feinstein chaired revealed in stark detail CIA mistreatment of prisoners, including things like waterboarding and sleep deprivation.

Tom Blanton, who heads the National Security Archive at George Washington University, says the investigation Feinstein directed made the intelligence community accountable.

“I think the Senate torture report was probably the high point of Sen. Feinstein’s entire Senate career,” Blanton said.

Reelection at age 85

The election of Donald Trump in 2016 put Feinstein’s brand of bipartisanship out of step within her own party. Feinstein’s bipartisanship was criticized by Democrats in 2016 after Donald Trump won the election. Some news reports mentioned apparent memory lapses.
Feinstein speaks to reporters in 2016.

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Feinstein speaks to reporters in 2016.

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In the fifth year of her final term in office, a serious bout of shingles forced Feinstein to miss nearly 100 votes while she recovered at home in San Francisco.

When she returned to Washington almost three months later, she appeared even more frail with lingering side effects from shingles that limited her ability to work.

Former aide Jim Lazarus believes her reasons for staying in office, rather than enjoying retirement, were intensely personal.

“I just don’t think she could see what else to do on a daily, weekly, monthly basis. She felt well enough and alert enough and strong enough to serve,” Lazarus said.

A role model for women in government

Feinstein’s most enduring legacy may be opening more doors for women in politics. She was San Francisco’s first female Mayor, though she wasn’t always as feminist as some would have liked. Malia Cohen who served as a member of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors prior to being elected to state Board of Equalization remembers meeting Feinstein on a field trip in third grade where Feinstein told the class that one of them could become mayor one day. And I wouldn’t be here without her leadership,” Cohen said.

Feinstein’s third husband Richard Blum died in 2022. She is survived by her daughter Katherine, a now-retired judge who served on the state superior court in San Francisco.While some Democrats felt Dianne Feinstein was too moderate and stayed in office too long, she’ll also be remembered as a woman who led her city through a moment of extraordinary grief and became an effective champion for important national issues in the U.S. Senate.