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Dianne Feinstein, Longest-serving Female US Senator, Dies at 90

Dianne Feinstein
Dianne Feinstein in the 2000s. Public Domain

Dianne Feinstein, the California senator who served for more than three decades and was a pioneer for women in US politics, has died aged 90.

Feinstein was the oldest member of the US Senate and voted as recently as Thursday.

For months, the California Democrat had faced questions about alleged memory and cognitive issues.

In April, she was admitted to hospital after a “minor fall” at her home, the latest in a series of health concerns.

The former San Francisco mayor had previously announced plans to retire at the end of next year but resisted growing calls for her to step down.

Dianne Feinstein a “passionate defender of civil liberties”

In a statement made after she announced her retirement plans, US President Joe Biden called her a “passionate defender of civil liberties” with a “strong voice for national security policies that keep us safe while honoring our values”.

“I’ve served with more US Senators than just about anyone,” Biden said. “I can honestly say that Dianne Feinstein is one of the very best.”

Feinstein was well known as a vocal advocate for gun control measures and an ardent supporter of the assault weapons ban signed into law by President Bill Clinton in 1994.

Earlier in life, she became San Francisco’s mayor after her predecessor, George Mascone, and supervisor Harvey Milk were killed by a former supervisor.

She later recounted rushing to Mr Mascone’s office and finding a bullet wound as she searched for his pulse – an experience she said left an indelible impression on her.

As a senator,  Feinstein was the first woman to chair the powerful Senate Intelligence Committee, where she led a years-long review of the CIA‘s controversial interrogation program of foreign terrorists in the wake of the 9/11 attacks in 2001.

Dianne Feinstein a “champion for the Golden State”

Feinstein was fondly remembered by her colleagues on Friday.

Rep. Nancy Pelosi hailed her fellow Californian as a “champion for the Golden State” and Democratic Sen. Dick Durbin of Illinois remembered her as “one of the great ones.” Republican House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, also of California, began his remarks to reporters Friday morning by honoring Feinstein as someone who “blazed a trail for women.”

In emotional remarks on the Senate floor, Majority Leader Chuck Schumer asked for a moment of silence. Per Senate tradition, Feinstein’s desk was draped with a black cloth with a vase of white flowers atop it.

“Dianne Feinstein is not like the others. She’s in a class of her own,” Schumer said, later adding, “America is a better place because of Sen. Dianne Feinstein.”

And President Joe Biden, himself a longtime colleague of Feinstein’s for more than 15 years, called her a “cherished friend.”

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