“Her passing is a great loss for so many, from those who loved and cared for her to the people of California that she dedicated her life to serving,” Sauls said in the statement. “Senator Feinstein never backed away from a fight for what was just and right. At the same time, she was always willing to work with anyone, even those she disagreed with, if it meant bettering the lives of Californians or the betterment of our nation.
“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,” he continued. “She left a legacy that is undeniable and extraordinary. There is much to say about who she was and what she did, but for now, we are going to grieve the passing of our beloved boss, mentor and friend.”
Feinstein was the first woman elected to the Senate from California in 1992 and became one of the most powerful politicians in the Capitol. As Senate Intelligence Committee chair, she battled with the Obama administration over the classified report on the CIA’s torture program following the attacks on Sept. 11, 2001 — commanding respect from Republicans and Democrats alike.
“She was one of the most effective legislators in recent memory because of her willingness to work across the aisle in good faith in order to solve complex problems,” said Sen. Thom Tillis (R-N.C.), who served with her on the Judiciary Committee.
Feinstein was also a renowned proponent of gun safety legislation. As fellow advocate Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) said on Friday morning: “For a long time, between 1994 and the tragedy in Newtown in 2012, Dianne was often a lonely but unwavering voice on the issue of gun violence.”
Three California House Democrats — Reps. Adam Schiff, Katie Porter and Barbara Lee — are all running for the full six-year term in the 2024 election. Feinstein’s interim replacement will serve through next year, and Newsom’s selection is a fraught choice that’s certain to alienate people.
Newsom had committed at one point to appointing a Black woman if he got a second Senate appointment. But he recently said that, if Feinstein did not complete her term, he would select a caretaker senator rather than Lee, who is running for Feinstein’s seat. Lee excoriated Newsom over those comments.
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer paid tribute to Feinstein on the floor, calling for a moment of silence as a bouquet of roses and a black cloth rested on her desk. Schumer recalled Feinstein’s fight for the assault weapons ban, her proclivity for studying an issue before she voted on it, as well as her “strength and her integrity.”
“We lost a giant in the Senate. Sen. Dianne Feinstein was one of the most amazing people who ever graced the Senate,” Schumer said.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell also paid tribute to Feinstein, noting that he and his his wife, Elaine Chao, shared a friendship with her over the years.
Dianne’s daughter, Katherine Feinstein, and House Speaker Emeritus Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) were seated in the gallery as Senate colleagues paid tribute. They sat closely together, with arms interlocked. Members of the California House delegation also stood on the floor.
Feinstein began facing health challenges after winning her fifth full term as a senator in 2018. She stepped down as the top Democrat on the Judiciary Committee and passed on serving as the Senate pro tempore, a position that would have placed her in the line of presidential succession.
Yet after a lengthy absence this year following a shingles diagnosis, Feinstein returned to Washington and kept voting to advance President Joe Biden’s judicial nominees and on the Senate floor. She voted to advance a critical spending bill on Thursday morning, but missed two votes on Thursday afternoon.
Her death brings Senate Democrats’ functional majority to 50 votes, with Republicans holding 49 votes. Two other Democratic senators tested positive for Covid this week — and the majority of the caucus is calling on indicted Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) to resign.
Jennifer Haberkorn, Ursula Perano and Jeremy B. White contributed to this report.