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Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California Dies at Age 90

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U.S. Senator Dianne Feinstein has died at the age of 90. The Democrat from California was the oldest sitting U.S. senator and she had been absent from the Senate many times in 2023 due to health issues.

First elected to the Senate in 1992 in the “Year of the Woman,” Feinstein broke gender barriers throughout her long political career. She passionately advocated for liberal priorities including the environment, abortion, and gun control. 

She got her start in politics as a San Francisco Democrat, being elected to the San Francisco Board of Supervisors in 1969. She became the city's first female board president in 1978 and then became the city's first female mayor. 

In the U.S. Senate, she self-identified as a pragmatist who would occasionally work with Republicans on certain issues. "I try to look out for women's rights. I also try to solve problems as I perceive them, with legislation, and reaching out where I can, and working across the aisle," she said. 

Republican Sen. Katie Britt honored her with this statement:

And Senate Chaplain Barry Black prayed on the Senate floor Friday, "Lord we pause to thank you for the life and legacy of Senator Dianne Feinstein. May her death teach us to number our days that we may have hearts of wisdom."

How Will Her Death Affect Control of the U.S. Senate?

Feinstein's death is not expected to have an impact on Democrat control of the U.S. Senate.

Democrats now control the U.S. Senate with 47 Democrats and 3 Independents who caucus with them. With Feinstein's death, there's also an additional vacant seat for Democrats. That vacancy will be temporarily filled by California's Democrat Gov. Gavin Newsom. Republicans hold 49 Senate seats. 

Feinstein's Senate History

Feinstein was one of California’s first two female U.S. senators, the first woman to head the Senate Intelligence Committee and the first woman to serve as the Judiciary Committee’s top Democrat.

The California senator was long known for her verbal zingers when challenged on the issues about which she was most fervent. But she lost that edge in her later years in the Senate, as her health visibly declined and she often became confused when answering questions or speaking publicly. 

Amid increasing concerns about her health, Feinstein stepped down as the top Democrat on the Judiciary panel after the 2020 elections. In 2023, she said she would not serve as the Senate president pro tempore, or the most senior member of the majority party. 
Feinstein sometimes frustrated the left wing of the Democratic Party by adopting positions they didn't like. For example, she defended the Obama administration’s expansive collection of Americans' phone and email records as necessary for protecting the country.

During Donald Trump’s presidency, Feinstein became the top Democrat on the Judiciary panel during his three Supreme Court nominations, angering liberal groups who wanted to see a more aggressive partisan in charge.

Feinstein's Family History

Feinstein was born on June 22, 1933. Her father, Leon Goldman, was a prominent surgeon and medical school professor in San Francisco, but the Associated Press reports her mother was an abusive woman with a violent temper that was often directed at Feinstein and her two younger sisters.

Feinstein graduated from Stanford University in 1955, with a bachelor’s degree in history. She married young and was a divorced single mother of her daughter, Katherine, in 1960, at a time when such a status was still unusual.

Her second husband, Bert Feinstein, was 19 years older than she, but she described the marriage as "a 10" and kept his name even after his death from cancer in 1978. In 1980, she married investment banker Richard Blum, and thanks to his wealth, she was one of the richest members of the Senate. He died in February 2022.

In addition to her daughter, Feinstein has a granddaughter, Eileen, and three stepchildren.

Associated Press material was used to compile this report.

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