Senator Dianne Feinstein Dies at 90

Derick Alison
Derick Alison
6 Min Read

Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), a supporter of reproductive rights and other liberal healthcare causes, died Thursday night at her home in Washington, her office said Friday.

“Sadly, Senator Feinstein passed away last night at her home in Washington, D.C.,” James Sauls, Feinstein’s chief of staff, said in a statement posted on the senator’s website. “There are few women who can be called senator, chairman, mayor, wife, mom and grandmother. Senator Feinstein was a force of nature who made an incredible impact on our country and her home state.”

Feinstein had been battling health problems for the last several months — including a case of shingles that left her wheelchair-bound for a time — and The Hill reported that she had missed some work this week. “She didn’t feel well this morning,” Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) said on Thursday, though she did participate in some Senate votes. California Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) will appoint her replacement.

President Biden called Feinstein a “pioneering American.”

“Serving in the Senate together for more than 15 years, I had a front row seat to what Dianne was able to accomplish,” Biden said in a statement. “It’s why I recruited her to serve on the Judiciary Committee when I was chairman — I knew what she was made of, and I wanted her on our team. There’s no better example of her skillful legislating and sheer force of will than when she turned passion into purpose, and led the fight to ban assault weapons. 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.”

Feinstein was elected to the Senate in 1992 “and has long focused on improving California’s water infrastructure and reducing the threat of wildfires,” according to her Senate website, which also said she advocated for “commonsense gun laws.” Her notable achievements include the “enactment of the federal Assault Weapons Ban in 1994, a law that prohibited the sale, manufacture and import of military-style assault weapons that expired in 2014.”

Among her healthcare accomplishments were helping pass the Affordable Care Act in 2009; a ban protecting children from phthalates in toys; banning rogue Internet pharmacies from selling drugs without prescriptions; and pushing for a breast cancer research stamp that has raised nearly $100 million for breast cancer research.

Feinstein also was praised by pro-choice organizations for her stance on reproductive rights. “Over the years, she stood strongly alongside Planned Parenthood, providers, and patients to protect the right of women and others to control their bodies and make decisions about their futures,” Jodi Hicks, CEO and president of Planned Parenthood Affiliates of California, said in a statement. “For that, Planned Parenthood, and so many others, are deeply grateful.”

Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.) said in a statement that Feinstein was “a fierce, courageous advocate on so many important issues, from gun safety, to national security, to protecting the rights of women and members of the LGBTQ+ community.”

But in recent months, questions have been raised about Feinstein’s cognitive state and fitness to continue serving in office. “There’s no question that she has memory loss problems, there’s no question about that,” political commentator Phil Matier told ABC 7, a San Francisco television station, in May. “Does that keep her from doing her job? That’s the question. Right now, as far as Washington is concerned, her job is to hold up her hand and vote, after that they’ll talk later.” Feinstein announced in February that she planned to retire from the Senate at the end of her term in 2024.

Feinstein was born in San Francisco on June 22, 1933, according to her Senate biography. She attended San Francisco public schools and graduated from the Convent of the Sacred Heart High School in 1951 and from Stanford University in 1955. She was a member of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors from 1970 through 1978, and then was elected the city’s mayor, serving until 1988. After an unsuccessful gubernatorial run in 1990, she was elected to the Senate in a 1992 special election to fill the term left vacant by the resignation of Sen. Pete Wilson (R).

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    Joyce Frieden oversees MedPage Today’s Washington coverage, including stories about Congress, the White House, the Supreme Court, healthcare trade associations, and federal agencies. She has 35 years of experience covering health policy. Follow

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