U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) — the longest-serving woman in the United States Senate — has died at the age of 90.
Sen. Feinstein’s career dates back to 1978 when she was elected president of San Francisco’s board of supervisors, becoming the first woman to hold the position. She later became mayor after the assassination of then-Mayor George Moscone and Harvey Milk by Dan White, who had also served on the same board.
In 1992, Feinstein won a special election to the United States Senate, making her California’s first female senator. Barbara Boxer was sworn in as senator weeks later, resulting in California becoming the first state in the nation to be represented by two women in the Senate.
James Sauls, Feinstein’s chief of staff, released a written statement this morning:
“Sadly, Senator Feinstein passed away last night at her home in Washington, D.C. Her passing is a great loss for so many, from those who loved and cared for her to the people of California that she dedicated her life to serving.
Senator Feinstein never backed away from 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 bettering the lives of Californians or the betterment of our nation.
There are few women who can be called senator, chairman, mayor, wife, mom and grandmother. Senator Feinstein was a force of nature who made an incredible impact on our country and her home state.
She left a legacy that is undeniable and extraordinary. There is much to say about who she was and what she did, but for now, we are going to grieve the passing of our beloved boss, mentor and friend.”
According to the Congressional record, Feinstein was present in the chamber on Wednesday to cast a vote at 11:45am, but she was later reported as having missed two votes that afternoon.
Feinstein is the first senator to die in office since Sen. John McCain’s (R-AZ) passing in August of 2018.
Around that time, it emerged that Feinstein’s office had been compromised by a Chinese foreign national who was spying on behalf of the People’s Republic of China. The spy reportedly worked for the senator for more than two decades.
Back in February of this year, Feinstein announced that she planned to retire at the end of her current term in office, which was set to expire in 2024. About a week later, Feinstein was absent from the Senate for more than two months recovering from a battle with shingles.
As concerns surrounding Feinstein’s heath have circulated in recent years, Feinstein took a step back from some of her more prominent positions in the chamber — including resigning as the top Democrat on the Judiciary and turning down the title of Senate president pro tempore, or the most senior member of the majority party.
Generally speaking, the president pro tempore is responsible for opening the Senate every day and holds other ceremonial duties.
A report from the San Fransisco Chronicle released in April of last year revealed that many of Feinstein’s colleagues in the Senate, as well as three of her former staffers, had serious concerns about her ability to continue serving in office.
Gov. Gavin Newsom (D-CA) — who will ultimately be responsible for naming Feinstein’s replacement — put out a statement earlier today focusing not on her potential successor, but on Feinstein herself and her political career:
“Dianne Feinstein was many things – a powerful, trailblazing U.S. Senator; an early voice for gun control; a leader in times of tragedy and chaos. But to me, she was a dear friend, a lifelong mentor, and a role model not only for me, but to my wife and daughters for what a powerful, effective leader looks like.
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. And she was a fighter — for the city, the state and the country she loved. Every race she won, she made history, but her story wasn’t just about being the first woman in a particular political office, it was what she did for California, and for America, with that power once she earned it. That’s what she should be remembered for.
There is simply nobody who possessed the strength, gravitas, and fierceness of Dianne Feinstein. Jennifer and I are deeply saddened by her passing, and we will mourn with her family in this difficult time.”
This morning, the Senate observed a moment of silence in honor of Feinstein, and flowers were placed on her desk in the chamber.
Many of Feinstein’s colleagues from both sides of the political aisle have released statements this morning mourning her passing, both lauding her career accomplishments and remembering her as a friend and co-worker.
Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME) tweeted out a brief comment earlier today on Feinstein’s passing: “Senator Dianne Feinstein was a trailblazing Senator, a strong and effective leader, and a good friend.”
It still remains to be seen who will be appointed to follow in Feinstein’s footsteps, as well as how the temporary vacancy will affect the Senate’s day-to-day operations in the meantime.