Dianne Feinstein, US Senate’s longest serving Jewish politician, dies aged 90

The California senator was a passionate advocate for reproductive rights and gun control


WASHINGTON, DC - SEPTEMBER 6: Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) speaks during a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on judicial nominations on Capitol Hill September 6, 2023 in Washington, DC. During the hearing the committee considered five judges for federal vacancies. (Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

Dianne Feinstein, the first Jewish woman in the US Senate who held her seat for nearly 31 years, has died aged 90.

Feinstein, a centrist Democrat, was elected to the Senate in 1992 and broke gender barriers throughout her long career in local and national politics.

She died on Thursday night at her home in Washington DC, her office said on Friday. Tributes poured in all day.

Feinstein, the oldest sitting US senator representing California, was a passionate advocate for liberal priorities important to her state - including environmental protection, reproductive rights and gun control. She was also known as a pragmatic lawmaker who reached out to Republicans and sought middle ground.

Her death came after a bout of shingles sidelined her for more than two months earlier this year. When she returned to the Senate in May, she was frail and using a wheelchair, voting only occasionally.

US President Joe Biden, who ordered flags to be flown at half-mast in Feinstein’s honour, called her “a historic figure and a great friend”.

“Dianne made her mark on everything from national security to the environment to protecting civil liberties,” Biden stated. “She’s made history in so many ways, and our country will benefit from her legacy for generations.”

The Jewish Federations of North America said: “For American Jews, particularly Jewish women, Feinstein smashed glass ceilings as a powerful politician driven by her Jewish values and championing women’s rights in Washington.”

Senate republican leader Mitch McConnell was one of several Republicans who gave tributes to the Democratic icon, calling her his friend. "Dianne was a trailblazer, and her beloved home state of California and our entire nation are better for her dogged advocacy and diligent service," McConnell said.

California Governor Gavin Newsom will appoint Feinstein’s replacement for the duration of her Senate term.

Feinstein’s father was a Jewish physician and her mother was a model who was born to an ethnically Jewish family but raised in the Russian Orthodox church. She was born on June 22, 1933, in San Francisco, attended a Roman Catholic school and said, when she was running for governor in 1990, that her parents left it up to her to decide which faith suited her.

When Feinstein was 20, she picked Judaism as her faith. Explaining why, Feinstein said “because I liked its simplicity and directness.”

She was elected to the San Francisco Board of Supervisors in 1969 and became its first female board president in 1978. She later became San Francisco's first female mayor.

In the Senate, she was one of California's first two female senators, the first woman to head the Senate Intelligence Committee and the first woman to serve as the Judiciary Committee's top Democrat.

Feinstein was predeceased by her husband, Richard Blum, who died in February 2022. She is survived by her daughter, Katherine Feinstein and granddaughter, Eileen Feinstein Mariano.

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