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Diane Feinstein dies at 90 - Pragmatic Senate trailblazer

By Jake Beardslee · September 29, 2023

In brief…

  • Senator Dianne Feinstein passed away at age 90 it was announced today.
  • She was the longest-serving female and California senator.
  • She was known for advocacy of gun control and bipartisanship
  • Feinstein served as San Francisco's first female mayor before entering the Senate.
  • Three House Democrats are running for her Senate seat.
Sen. Dianne Feinstein, a prominent Democrat who was the longest-serving female and California senator, has died at age 90.  Benjamin Dunn/Wikimedia

California Sen. Dianne Feinstein, the oldest member of the Senate, the longest-serving female senator, and the longest-serving senator from California, has passed away at age 90.

Sen. Feinstein was known for her advocacy of gun control measures. She championed the 1994 assault weapons ban and continued pushing for restrictive gun laws even after the ban expired in 2004.

As Chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee, Feinstein also spearheaded an investigation into CIA interrogation practices after 9/11. Her inquiry led to new laws prohibiting torture techniques used by U.S. spy agencies.

A pragmatic Democrat, Feinstein frequently tried to find common ground with Republicans, even when it drew criticism from progressive Democrats.

She disagreed with more liberal members of her party on proposals such as single-payer health care and the Green New Deal, arguing that they were impractical both politically and economically.

Tensions grew between Feinstein and progressives when she hugged Republican Lindsey Graham following Amy Coney Barrett’s Supreme Court confirmation hearing. This prompted calls for her to step down from the Judiciary Committee, which she ultimately did.

Feinstein preferred upholding Senate traditions rather than changing them, although she was open to altering filibuster rules if Democrats could not pass key priorities such as voting rights, gun control, and the Violence Against Women Act.

Feinstein was previously San Francisco’s first female mayor, taking office after the 1978 assassinations of Mayor George Moscone and supervisor Harvey Milk. She was elected to the Senate in 1992.

Feinstein announced in February that she planned to retire at the end of her current term. She had faced calls for her resignation over concerns about her health. Democratic Reps. Katie Porter, Adam Schiff and Barbara Lee are vying for Feinstein’s Senate seat.

Feinstein is survived by her daughter Katherine, a judge; son-in-law Rick Mariano; and granddaughter Eileen.