Senator Dianne Feinstein Dies at 90
Senator Dianne Feinstein Dies at 90

By Zachary Stieber

The oldest member of Congress has died.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) passed away at age 90 during the evening of Sept. 28, her chief of staff said Friday.

Her cause of death has not been made public.

“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,” James Sauls, the chief of staff, said in a statement.

“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,” Mr. Sauls added.

Ms. Feinstein became a U.S. senator in 1992. She was reelected five times. Before her time in Washington, she was San Francisco’s mayor and a member of the city’s Board of Supervisors.

Ms. Feinstein’s latest husband, Richard Blum, died in 2022.

Ms. Feinstein had been struggling with health issues. She was briefly hospitalized in August after a fall. She was cared for in a hospital for months after contracting shingles in March. Complications from the infection included Ramsay Hunt Syndrome, which can cause facial paralysis. When she returned to the Senate, she was being pushed around in a wheelchair.

Ms. Feinstein had handed over power of attorney to her daughter as part of a battle over Mr. Blum’s estate.

Seat to be Filled by Governor

The seat held by Ms. Feinstein will be temporarily filled by a person chosen by California Gov. Gavin Newsom, a Democrat.

Under the U.S. Constitution, states have the power to fill vacancies that arise in the Senate.

Mr. Newsom has not said when he will make his choice. In a statement on Friday, he said Ms. Feinstein 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.”

Ms. Feinstein’s seat was already set to become vacant in early 2025, as she had opted not to run for another term.

The race for the seat includes U.S. Reps. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.), Katie Porter (D-Calif.), and Adam Schiff (D-Calif.). Republicans running include attorney Eric Early and businesswoman Sarah Sun Liew.

No Republican has represented California in the Senate since 1992.

Democrats currently hold a majority in the Senate. With Feinstein, that majority was 51–49. Without her, it is 50–49.

Congress is working on passing a new budget as a government shutdown looms.

History in Congress

Ms. Feinstein was praised Friday by colleagues on both sides of the aisle.

“Dianne Feinstein was a treasured friend to the Wyden family. She was an extraordinary advocate for San Francisco, for California, and for the West,” Sen. Ron Wyden (R-Ore.) said in a statement.

“Sen Feinstein did an outstanding job representing the people of California,” Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) added.

Ms. Feinstein helped craft a federal ban on some guns that was in place from 1994 to 2004.

She said her efforts to impose stricter regulations on gun ownership stemmed in part from the assassinations of San Francisco Mayor George Moscone and Supervisor Harvey Milk. Ms. Feinstein became the city’s mayor after Mr. Moscone was killed.

Ms. Feinstein rallied for approval of new gun control laws after the 2012 mass killing of people at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut in 2012.

In Washington in 2021, Ms. Feinstein described America as “a gun-happy nation, and everybody can have their gun.”

“Unfortunately we’re not making the laws that could protect people in this kind of gun crimes,” she added, referring to a mass shooting in San Jose.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) heads to a vote on Capitol Hill in Washington on Sept. 6, 2023. (Alex Brandon/AP Photo)

Ms. Feinstein was for years the chairwoman of the Senate Intelligence Committee. During her tenure, the panel reported on how the CIA ran secret detention facilities outside America and interrogated suspected terrorists in the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks on the United States. The report’s summary said that the CIA’s interrogation techniques in some cases “amount[ed] to torture.” The actual report has remained classified.

“The CIA’s actions are a stain on our values and our history,” Ms. Feinstein said at the time.

The CIA said the report “provided an incomplete and selective picture of what happened.”

Ms. Feinstein was also a defender of the government’s spying on Americans, after exposure of the spying by National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden.

“It’s called protecting America,” Ms. Feinstein said after details of the spying programs were made public. Her position ran counter to that of many colleagues, Republican and Democrat.

Ms. Feinstein was also criticized by some colleagues and activists for her handling of confirmation hearings for President Donald Trump’s three Supreme Court picks, especially when she embraced Senate Judiciary Chairman Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) after confirmation hearings for Justice Amy Coney Barrett.

Ms. Feinstein shortly afterwards stepped down as the top Democrat of the Senate Judiciary Committee, without listing a reason. She remained a member.

Born on June 22, 1933, Ms. Feinstein graduated Stanford University in 1955 with a history degree.

She was married the following year but divorced her first husband, Jack Berman, in 1959, leaving her a single mother of her daughter, Katherine.

Ms. Feinstein, was appointed by California’s governor to the California Women’s Parole Board in 1960, starting her career in the government. She won a race for the San Francisco Board of Supervisors in 1960, and later became San Francisco’s acting mayor following Mr. Moscone’s assassination. She had previously lost two mayoral races.

Ms. Feinstein remarried in 1962. Bertram Feinstein, the second husband, died in 1978. Ms. Feinstein kept his name.

She married Mr. Blum, an investment banker, two years later.

In addition to her daughter, Ms. Feinstein leaves behind a granddaughter and three stepchildren.

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