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Sen. Dianne Feinstein dies at 90

U.S. Senator Diane Feinstein (D-CA), who announced she will not be seeking re-election, leaves the Senate floor after a vote on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., February 14, 2023.

U.S. Senator Diane Feinstein (D-CA), who announced she will not be seeking re-election, leaves the Senate floor after a vote on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., February 14, 2023.

REUTERS/Evelyn Hockstein

California Sen. Dianne Feinstein passed away at age 90 late on Thursday, family members confirmed Friday. She was the oldest sitting US senator and a titan of politics in the state boasting the country’s largest economy.


Feinstein came to national prominence following the tragic double assassination of San Francisco Mayor George Moscone and LGBTQ+ rights icon Harvey Milk, then a city supervisor. Named acting mayor, she embarked on an “emotional reconstruction” of the city, in her words. Her resilience paved the way for her to serve two terms as San Francisco’s mayor before winning a Senate seat in the 1992 California special election.

She built a legacy in the Senate of championing progressive causes, introducing the bill that effectively banned assault rifles between 1994 and 2004, and campaigning for abortion rights and higher fuel efficiency standards. She played a pivotal role in the 2018 confirmation hearings of Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh as the conduit for Professor Christine Blasey Ford’s allegations that Kavanaugh had sexually assaulted her decades earlier.

California Gov. Gavin Newsom has said he will appoint a Black woman to replace Feinstein, though one of the most promising candidates, Rep. Barbara Lee (D-CA), is probably out of the running. Since Feinstein announced she would retire at the end of her current term before she passed, Lee has been campaigning against other California Democrats for the seat. The concern is that appointing Lee to finish the term would give her something of an incumbency advantage in the 2024 Democratic primary that her opponents would decry as unfair.

There’s one more potential complication: Feinstein was the tie-breaking vote on the Senate Judiciary Committee, and she played a crucial role in confirming federal judges appointed by President Joe Biden. Her replacement won’t automatically take her place. Democrats can try to appoint a new Senator to the committee, but a GOP senator could — and probably will — filibuster the motion, thereby blocking Biden’s appointments indefinitely.

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