Washington (Agencies): Dianne Feinstein, a trailblazing Democrat who held her Senate seat for an unprecedented three decades, has passed away after several months of declining health. She was 90 years old.
Feinstein’s office confirmed her passing, stating that she died at her Washington home on Thursday night.
With Feinstein’s passing, California Democratic Governor Gavin Newsom gains the authority to appoint a successor to complete the remainder of her term, ensuring Democratic control of the Senate until early January 2025. Newsom has publicly committed to appointing a Black woman in the event of Feinstein’s vacancy and has indicated that he will make an “interim appointment” that doesn’t include any of the candidates running for the seat in the next year’s election.
Feinstein’s demise coincides with a critical juncture in federal funding negotiations, with Congress in a deadlock over avoiding a government shutdown. Nonetheless, Senate Democrats maintain their majority even in her absence.
A former mayor of San Francisco, Feinstein was a prominent figure in California politics for decades. Her election to the US Senate in 1992 catapulted her to national prominence, making her a leading face of the Democratic Party. Throughout her political career, she shattered numerous glass ceilings, leaving an indelible mark on Capitol Hill. Her influential contributions included the federal assault weapons ban in 1994 and the 2014 CIA torture report. She also served on the Senate Intelligence and Judiciary committees for an extended period.
In her later years, concerns about Feinstein’s health and fitness for office emerged, with her prolonged absence from the Senate due to a shingles-related hospitalization in February causing delays in the confirmation of Democratic-appointed judicial nominees. She returned to Capitol Hill three months later but faced complications during her recovery, including Ramsay Hunt syndrome and encephalitis, following the shingles episode. A fall in August further heightened concerns.
Feinstein, who held the distinction of being the Senate’s oldest member at the time of her passing, faced questions about her mental acuity and ability to lead. She defended her effectiveness, stating, “The real question is whether I’m still an effective representative for 40 million Californians, and the record shows that I am.”
Speculation about Feinstein’s retirement swirled, prompting several Democrats to declare their candidacies for her seat even before she officially announced her decision not to seek reelection in 2024. In February, she confirmed her retirement plans, telling CNN, “The time has come.”
On Friday, Feinstein was fondly remembered and honored by her colleagues.