Democratic Senator from California Dianne Feinstein, a pioneer for women in American politics, died this Friday. She was 90 years old. For Democrats, the news of the death of the first woman to represent California in the United States Senate, and the longest-serving senator in the country’s history, is a blow.
Faced with growing doubts about her age and fitness, Feinstein planned to retire at the end of her term.
The race to succeed her in a safe Democratic seat has attracted high-profile candidates: Adam Schiff, former chairman of House Intelligence, is facing congresswomen Katie Porter and Barbara Lee.
California’s Democratic governor, Gavin Newsom, has promised to place a black woman in any open seat.
Before entering national politics, Feinstein was the first woman to be mayor of San Francisco. She ran for office twice before the 1978 assassinations of Mayor George Moscone and Councilman Harvey Milk brought Feinstein from the Board of Supervisors to office.
After leaving office in 1988, Feinstein unsuccessfully ran for governor in 1990, before winning her Senate seat in 1992. She did so alongside Barbara Boxer, making California the first state to send two women to the Senate. Feinstein became California’s first female senator because she was sworn in first, to complete an unfinished term. Feinstein was also the first Jewish senator.
Feinstein had amassed a formidable record, notably piloting a federal assault weapons ban in 1994 and, as intelligence chairwoman, investigating CIA torture after 9/11.
In 2020, she attracted considerable criticism for her work leading Democrats on the Senate Judiciary Committee, particularly in the confirmation of Amy Coney Barrett, the third conservative placed on the Supreme Court by Donald Trump’s Republicans.
For much of 2023, including a lengthy absence from Washington due to illness, Feinstein and her aides resisted calls for her to resign.
Feinstein left her mark in Washington. In November 2022, she said: “It is an incredible honor to become the longest-serving senator in the history of our country, and I am eternally grateful to the people of California who sent me here to represent them. It has been a great pleasure to see more and more women walk the halls of the Senate. We went from two senators when I ran for office in 1992 to 24 today, and I know that number will continue to rise.”
Regarding the changes in the role of women in public life in the United States and the challenges of the reactionary right, she stated: “We have seen enormous progress, but we still have work to do. When I got to the Senate, Roe v. Wade [la sentencia del Tribunal Supremo de 1973 que garantizaba el derecho al aborto] It was the law of the land, a fundamental right and a clear sign that women have the right to choose what is best for themselves. The Supreme Court recently overturned that right. And women continue to fight for equal pay: they still earn just 84 cents on the dollar compared to men in the same position and often fight for rights in the workplace.”