Dianne Feinstein Dies at 90
Courtesy of the NYT
Senator Dianne Feinstein passed away on Friday, September 29. She was 90 years old.
Senator Feinstein was the longest-serving female senator in the senate’s history. She was first elected to the senate in 1992 and represented the state of California as a Democrat for over 30 years at the time of her death. She passed away during her last term, months after committing to retire after the 2024 elections.She served with multiple different California senators during her tenure, including Vice President Kamala Harris. Feinstein had been a member of many important committees, including the Senate Judiciary Committee, the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, and the Senate Committee on Rules and Administration. At the time of her death, she chaired the Senate Subcommittees on Human Rights and the Law and Energy and Water.
Feinstein’s passing came after months of ill health and calls to resign. At the age of 90, the senior senator from California had multiple health scares. A diagnosis of shingles in April 2023 led to a complication of encephalitis, or brain inflammation. This was amidst many rumors and suggestions that Feinstein’s age had led to the decline of her mental fitness. By July of the same year, Feinstein had ceded power of attorney over to her daughter, Katherine Feinstein. It is still unclear the degree of power Katherine Feinstein had over her mother, but she was able to file a lawsuit on the senator’s behalf. Regardless, it was a worrying sight to many American voters. Feinstein faced countless calls to resign during the last part of her tenure as constituents and legislators worried that she couldn’t fulfill her congressional duties.
Feinstein started her political career in her hometown of San Francisco. She was elected to the San Francisco Board of Supervisors, “the legislative branch of the city and county”, in 1969 before becoming President of the Board in 1978. After the infamous assassination of San Francisco Mayor George Moscone and fellow Supervisor Harvey Milk, Feinstein was appointed acting mayor of San Francisco. She was appointed to the full position of mayor, a position she held for the next ten years and used to make history as the first female mayor of San Francisco. She was then elected to the United States Senate in 1992 after winning a special election.
Despite the modern polarization of Congress, there has been a massive bipartisan show of support and mourning since the announcement of her death. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) proclaimed that “...we lost a giant in the senate. Senator Dianne Feinstein was one of the most amazing people who ever graced the senate, who ever graced the country”. Schumer also called her a hero and a friend, reportedly becoming emotional while speaking. Former Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D, CA-11) posted on X that Sen. Feinstein was a “dear friend” and that her “indomitable..leadership made a magnificent difference for our national security and personal safety”. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), who shared many committee assignments with Feinstein, called her a “trailblazer” and stated that they were “actual friends”. He states that the nation was ultimately better off with her having been part of its government. Other Republicans commented on the loss of Feinstein, including Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R, CA-23), who cited her as an inspiration to women, and Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC), who regarded her as a friend and enjoyed their multi-year tenure together. President Biden expressed his condolences as well, calling her a friend, a role model, and a pioneer for women.
Feinstein’s death leaves numerous vacancies. California now has only one senator, leaving Governor Gavin Newsome (D) with the seemingly impossible job of filling her place. Newsom has previously committed to appointing a Black woman to fill the space, but that still leaves many options for one vastly important position. While Newsom has currently not committed to any one person for the position, he did state that he would not appoint anyone currently running for the seat in 2024. This excludes Katie Porter (D, CA-47), Adam Schiff (D, CA-30), and notably Barbara Lee (D, CA-12), who may have been considered for an appointment otherwise. Feinstein’s committee assignments have also been left vacant, causing concern that Republicans would attempt to prevent a new senator from filling the vacancies. Feinstein was a tie-breaking vote in the Senate Judiciary Committee, whose jobs include the confirmation of new judges and Supreme Court Justices. However, Senator John Cornyn (R-TX) has said that the Republican committee members will not prevent any Democratic replacements in the committee.
Senator Feinstein’s death came after a long and respected career in both Californian
and national politics. Regardless of who fills the now-empty seat, Feinstein’s legacy for women and for politics as a whole will live on for years to come.