Sen. Dianne Feinstein, the trailblazing California Democrat who broke barriers for women and sought middle ground with Republicans during her decadeslong career, has died. She was 90.
Officials with Feinstein’s office confirmed that the oldest member of the Senate and the longest-serving woman in the chamber died on Thursday at her house in Washington, D.C.
“Senator Feinstein never backed away from a fight for what was just and right,” James Sauls, Feinstein’s chief of staff, said Friday in a statement. “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.”
President Joe Biden remembered Feinstein as “a pioneering American. A true trailblazer. And for Jill and me, a cherished friend.” The president earlier served in the Senate with Feinstein, who joined the Senate Judiciary Committee and pushed for the 1994 assault weapons ban while he was the committee’s chair.
“Dianne made her mark on everything from national security to the environment to protecting civil liberties. She’s made history in so many ways, and our country will benefit from her legacy for generations,” Biden said.
“Often the only woman in the room, Dianne was a role model for so many Americans – a job she took seriously by mentoring countless public servants, many of whom now serve in my Administration. She had an immense impact on younger female leaders for whom she generously opened doors.”
In a statement obtained by KGO, former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi remembered Feinstein as “right from the start ... an icon for women in politics.”
“She’s a legend,” Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer told the news station. “A legend in California as the first woman senator. A legend in the Senate. She was the leader on so many different issues.”
House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., said flags over the Capitol were lowered Friday to remember Feinstein. He told reporters on Capitol Hill that she “broke barriers and blazed the trail for women.”
“Her career was, by any standards, historic,” he said. Later, he added, that “even coming from a different party, (she) inspired people from both sides of the aisle to seek elected office and to have their voices heard.”
California Gov. Gavin Newsom called Feinstein “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,” he said. “And she was a fighter — for the city, the state and the country she loved.”
Feinstein was elected to the Senate in 1992, dubbed the “Year of the Woman” in part because of her election win. In February, she announced that she did not plan to run for re-election in 2024 amid growing scrutiny over her health.
She was briefly hospitalized in August after a fall at her home in San Francisco. Earlier in the year, a shingles diagnosis sent her to the hospital and kept her from the Senate floor from March until May.
A San Francisco native, Feinstein was elected to the county’s Board of Supervisors in 1969. In 1978, she told reporters that she planned to quit politics after two failed bids to become the city’s mayor, The Los Angeles Times reported. However, her plans changed after the assassination of Mayor George Moscone and Supervisor Harvey Milk at San Francisco City Hall.
Moscone’s death made her San Francisco’s mayor for the remainder of Moscone’s term. The first woman to serve in the role, she went on to win two subsequent terms in office.
In 1993, Feinstein told the Times that “although I had wanted to be mayor, this is not the way I wanted to get there. It was a very, very hard thing.” Feinstein was the one to find Milk’s body, The Associated Press reported.
Feinstein was the first woman elected to serve as a senator from California, the first woman to serve on the Senate Judiciary Committee, the first woman to chair the Senate Rules and Administration Committee and the first woman to chair the Senate Intelligence Committee.
She married Jack Berman, then a prosecutor in the San Francisco District Attorney’s Office, in 1956, according to The New York Times. The couple had one child together, Katherine Anne, before they divorced in 1959.
In 1980, Feinstein married investment banker Richard Blum, who died in 2022, according to the newspapers.
Feinstein is survived by her daughter, her stepdaughters and seven grandchildren, the Times reported.
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