WASHINGTON — Tributes poured in quickly Friday from both Democrats and Republicans after news broke that Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., has died at the age of 90.
Many lawmakers described her as a “trailblazer” for women in politics and said they were honored to work with her in Congress, where she served more than 30 years.
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., choked up and called for a moment of silence Friday morning on the floor where Feinstein’s desk was draped in a black cloth with a vase of white roses sitting on top. A separate moment of silence was later held on the House floor.
“Senator Dianne Feinstein was one of the most amazing people who ever graced the Senate, whoever graced the country,” Schumer said. “She was smart. She was strong. She was brave. She was compassionate, but maybe the trait that stood out most of all was her amazing integrity — her integrity was a diamond.”
Schumer commended Feinstein for her leading role in the passage and signing of the 1994 assault weapons ban, championing the Violence Against Women Act, directing the oversight of U.S. torture techniques and fighting for marriage equality.
“She gave a voice, a platform and a leader to women throughout the country for decades. Dianne didn’t just push down doors that were closed for women, she held them open for generations of women after her, to follow her,” Schumer said. “Today, there are 25 women serving in this chamber and every one of them will admit they stand on Dianne’s shoulders.”
His voice trembling, Schumer turned to Feinstein’s desk and said, “Today, we grieve. We look at that desk and we know what we’ve lost.”
Schumer noted that Feinstein’s daughter, Katherine, was sitting with Speaker Emerita Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., in the gallery above the Senate floor watching the ongoing speeches honoring her mother.
Pelosi reacted to the passing of Feinstein when she entered the Capitol on Friday morning. Both longtime residents of San Francisco, Pelosi was choking up, telling reporters, “It’s very sad for all of us … may she rest in peace. She left voting the last day.”
Feinstein voted for the final time just before noon Thursday, according to the website that tracks Senate roll call votes.
President Joe Biden, who served alongside Feinstein in the Senate, said in a statement released by the White House, “Senator Dianne Feinstein was a pioneering American. A true trailblazer. And for Jill and me, a cherished friend.”
“Dianne was tough, sharp, always prepared, and never pulled a punch, but she was also a kind and loyal friend, and that’s what Jill and I will miss the most,” said Biden, who ordered the lowering of flags.
Vice President Kamala Harris, who served alongside Feinstein as the junior senator from California, called the late senator “one of the greatest public servants that California and our nation has ever known.”
“In the tradition of so many great Senators from California, she was not only a leader for our state, but for our nation and our world,” she said. “Through her long career, Senator Feinstein worked across the aisle to help our nation live up to its promise.”
Former Rep. Jane Harman, D-Calif., said she saw Feinstein in person on Thursday evening. Harman began serving in the House not long after Feinstein came to the Senate in late 1992.
“It’s a huge, huge loss. And I was a lucky one. I saw her at 5 p.m. yesterday, at her home. We had a one-hour private meeting. I came by to say hi…I got the hug and the kiss,” Harman said on MSNBC on Friday morning. “I loved her dearly. One of my dearest friends ever. And I’m just shocked by the news. Just shocked.”
Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., became the first female president pro tempore earlier this year after Feinstein declined to take on the role. In remarks on the Senate floor on Friday, Murray said she was sworn into the Senate just a few weeks after Feinstein in the early 1990s and said she was “the most generous senator I have ever known.” She shared that one time, she remarked that Feinstein’s purse was beautiful. “Two days later, I got one delivered to my door,” Murray said.
Addressing Feinstein’s California constituents, Murray said, “She was here every day to fight for you no matter what. She fought for women, she fought for those who are victims of gun violence. She fought for foreign policy that was remote to most people, but she knew every detail. And when Dianne spoke, the rest of us stopped and listened.”
At the end of her speech, Murray became emotional and said she regretted not saying goodbye after Feinstein voted for the final time on Thursday: “I’m so sorry I didn’t hug her when she went back out that door yesterday.”
The junior Democratic senator from California, Alex Padilla, choked up as he spoke about his colleague on the Senate floor, saying that he worked his “damnedest to try to emulate” Feinstein throughout his career. He shared that it was Feinstein who gave him one of his first jobs in politics, working in her Los Angeles office.
“It’s in part thanks to her groundbreaking career that a Latino son of immigrants could one day not just work for her, but work alongside her to keep up the fight for the American dream,” said Padilla, who Feinstein told California Gov. Gavin Newsom to appoint to fill the Senate seat previously held by Kamala Harris once she became vice president.
Newsom, who will be responsible for appointing her temporary successor to fill her vacant seat, said in a statement that Feinstein was “a dear friend, a lifelong mentor, and a role model not only for me, but to my wife and daughters for what a powerful, effective leader looks like.”
“She was a political giant, whose tenacity was matched by her grace. She broke down barriers and glass ceilings, but never lost her belief in the spirit of political cooperation. And she was a fighter — for the city, the state and the country she loved,” he said. “Every race she won, she made history, but her story wasn’t just about being the first woman in a particular political office, it was what she did for California, and for America, with that power once she earned it. That’s what she should be remembered for.”
Former President Barack Obama said in a statement, “I first got to know Dianne in the Senate, where she was a fierce advocate for gun safety measures and civil rights. Later, when I was president, I came to rely on her as a trusted partner in the fight to guarantee affordable healthcare and economic opportunity for everyone.”
Obama added, “The best politicians get into public service because they care about this country and the people they represent. That was certainly true of Dianne Feinstein, and all of us are better for it.”
Former President Bill Clinton, who in 1994 signed the assault weapons ban ushered through Congress by Feinstein, released a statement with his wife, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who served with Feinstein in the Senate.
“She was a fearless fighter who never backed down from what she believed in, but knew that principled compromise is often necessary to get things done for the good of the country and her constituents,” they said. “I’ll always be grateful for the opportunity to work closely with her, particularly to pass the Assault Weapons Ban, which she authored, and on environmental preservation, including the cleanup of Lake Tahoe. And Hillary was proud to serve alongside her in the Senate.”
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said that he and his wife Elaine Chao had been friends with Feinstein and her husband for three decades. “She was an incredibly effective person at every level,” he said on the floor. “Dianne was a trailblazer and her beloved home state of California, and our entire nation are better for her dogged advocacy and diligent service.”
Other senators reacted swiftly to the news too.
“Devastated to hear of the passing of my longtime friend, Senator Dianne Feinstein,” Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., said in a post on X, formerly Twitter. “Through her tenure in Congress, she was a leader for women’s rights and a trailblazer for women elected officials. My heart is with her entire family. Dianne will be terribly missed.”
Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, now the oldest sitting senator at 90, posted. “Sen Feinstein did an outstanding job representing the ppl of California. I worked closely w her as a member of the drug caucus& judiciary cmte. During the time I was chair& she was ranking Democrat we had a wonderful working relationship She’s a true public servant I’ll miss her.”
Three of the Democratic candidates running to fill her California seat in the 2024 primary election next year — Reps. Adam Schiff, Barbara Lee and Katie Porter — reacted to the news.
“I lost a real friend and mentor,” Schiff said in a statement. Senator Dianne Feinstein was one of the finest legislators we have ever seen, and her accomplishments made our country and world a better place. The Senator’s legacy is unmatched.”
“Senator Feinstein broke glass ceilings for women in politics and fought fearlessly for safer communities free of gun violence,” Lee wrote on X. “This a monumental day of loss, but Senator Feinstein’s work continues and her legacy lives on.”
Porter conveyed a similar message about Feinstein being a trailblazer for women and praised her work on gun violence prevention, adding that her leadership on “anti-torture made our nation more just.”
On the Republican side, several of Feinstein’s colleagues in the Senate also paid tribute.
Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., said in a statement, “On a personal level, she was a friend. She always had something good to say to start the day. I enjoyed working with Dianne on tough issues as she understood the give and take nature of politics and negotiation.”
“Senator Feinstein was a trailblazer—a giant of the Senate—who dedicated her life to public service. Ann and I give our condolences to her loved ones, colleagues, and staff as they mourn her passing,” Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, wrote.
Sen. Rick Scott, R-Fla., wrote, “Ann and I are heartbroken by the loss of Sen. Dianne Feinstein. Dianne’s more than 30 years in the Senate reflect a life of service to her state of California and our nation. We are praying for her family, staff and all who knew and loved her.”
Sen. Josh Hawley, R-Mo., said that Feinstein, “No one was more welcoming when I came to the Senate than she, and no one was a better example. She was tough, incredibly smart, and effective. Always willing to work across the aisle to get things done, she was a person of unquestioned integrity. I admired her and will miss her in the Senate.”
Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., said that Feinstein was “a political pioneer with a historic career of public service. Intelligent, hard working & always treated everyone with courtesy & respect. May God grant her eternal rest.”
Feinstein, the oldest member of the Senate, the longest-serving female senator and the longest-serving senator from California, announced in February that she planned to retire at the end of her term. She had faced calls for her resignation over concerns about her health. In March, Feinstein was hospitalized in San Francisco after a diagnosis of shingles.
Before her election to the Senate in 1992, Feinstein served as the first female mayor of San Francisco and, prior to that, was a member and president of the city’s Board of Supervisors. She became mayor after the assassinations of Mayor George Moscone and city Supervisor Harvey Milk, the first gay elected official in California.