California Leaders React to Sen. Feinstein’s Death, Next Steps Contemplated

California Leaders React to Sen. Feinstein’s Death, Next Steps Contemplated

Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) leaves the Senate Democrats weekly policy lunch at the U.S. Capitol in Washington on July 20, 2021. (Elizabeth Frantz/Reuters)

Travis Gillmore

Travis Gillmore


Updated: 12/30/2023

Following 90-year-old Sen. Dianne Feinstein’s (D-Calif.) death at her home in Washington, D.C. Sept. 28, friends and colleagues offered condolences in statements remembering the late senator for her decades-long career in politics.
“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 saving,” James Sauls, Ms. Feinstein’s chief of staff, said in a statement released Sept. 29 on X, formerly known as Twitter. “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.”
Now tasked with choosing a replacement for Ms. Feinstein’s long-held, powerful senate seat, California Gov. Gavin Newsom expressed the deep respect he has for the late senator.
“Dianne Feinstein was many things–a powerful, trailblazing U.S. Senator; an early voice for gun control; a leader in times of tragedy and chaos,” Mr. Newsom said in a press release. “But to me, she 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.”
The governor ordered state flags to be flown at half-staff in her honor and recognized Ms. Feinstein for becoming the first woman senator from the Golden State when she was elected in 1992—after serving as mayor of San Francisco from 1978 to 1988.
“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,” Mr. Newsom 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.”
With the senate seat now vacant, no mention was made as to when a decision will be made or who could be involved in discussions on filling her seat.
Comments made by the governor earlier this year indicate he will choose a temporary replacement—telling NBC’s Meet the Press that it will likely be a Black woman, given that there are none in the Senate after Vice President Kamala Harris resigned to take her current role, with Mr. Newsom appointing Sen. Alex Padilla (D-Calif.) to take her place in the Legislature.
As colleagues in the Senate who both called the Bay Area in Northern California home, Ms. Harris remembered Ms. Feinstein for her tenacity and dedication to serving the community.
“Senator Dianne Feinstein was one of the greatest public servants that California and our nation has ever known,” Ms. Harris said in a press release. “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. Throughout her long career, Senator Feinstein worked across the aisle to help our nation live up to its promise.”
Gov. Newsom may choose any individual who qualifies to serve in the Senate—at least 30 years of age, with nine years of citizenship, and current residency in the state.
California Gov. Gavin Newsom talks to reporters in the spin room following the FOX Business Republican Primary Debate at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley, Calif., on Sept. 27, 2023. (Mario Tama/Getty Images)

California Gov. Gavin Newsom talks to reporters in the spin room following the FOX Business Republican Primary Debate at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley, Calif., on Sept. 27, 2023. (Mario Tama/Getty Images)

Rep. Barbara Lee expressed interest in the role following the late senator’s retirement announcement and earlier this month critiqued the governor’s decision to choose an interim replacement instead of one that would serve a full term—suggesting that such was a “token” move.
A full slate of Democrat candidates is vying for Ms. Feinstein’s seat, including Reps. Adam Schiff, Katie Porter, and Ms. Lee, with Mr. Schiff and Ms. Porter leading the field.
“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,” Mr. Schiff said in a press release. “California and all its citizens are truly indebted to the Senator and her family for her decades of service. We are all better off for her dogged pursuit of policies that made our country a better union.”
Ms. Porter also released a statement honoring and thanking Ms. Feinstein for opening doors to political access for others, including herself.
“Dianne Feinstein paved the way for generations of women to serve—including me,” she said. “She left her mark in tough fights … Her legacy will live on.”
Republican candidates include Los Angeles-based attorney Eric Early and national security expert Denice Gary-Pandol.
The governor’s office declined to comment on the timeline for announcing a replacement or a list of possible candidates.
While the timing of the senator’s death accelerates the process, her announcement in February that she would retire at the end of 2024 prompted conversations in the governor’s office to consider all options, according to statements released earlier this year.
Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., heads to a vote on Capitol Hill in Washington on Sept. 6, 2023. (Alex Brandon/AP Photo)

Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., heads to a vote on Capitol Hill in Washington on Sept. 6, 2023. (Alex Brandon/AP Photo)

Her declining health in recent months, which caused her to miss work for extended periods of time, led to concerns from lawmakers on both sides of the aisle that her absences and frailty suggested that earlier replacement was possibly necessary.
Ms. Feinstein voted for the last time on the Senate floor Sept. 28—in favor of a government spending measure to fund the Federal Aviation Administration—though she did not vote in two subsequent opportunities later in the day.

What Can Happen Next?

As the oldest serving senator before her death, Ms. Feinstein is the 302nd senator to die in office, the third in the last 10 years, and the ninth since 2000.
Former Sen. John McCain’s death at 81 in 2018 was the last such occurrence, with Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey saying at the time he would wait until the senator’s body was laid to rest before announcing his replacement. Nine days later, he chose former Sen. John Kyl (R-Ariz.) to fill the position.
Replacement protocols vary by state, with the majority allowing the governor to choose such, though a handful require special elections, as was the case when former Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.) died of viral pneumonia at 89 in 2013.
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie announced an interim replacement three days later, and Sen. Corey Booker (D-N.J.) won a special election in October of that year.
With the average age of senators at an all-time high, some are questioning whether term limits, age, and cognitive ability of representatives should be considered.
After Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) froze during two press conferences earlier this year, concerns were raised.
Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), 83, recently announced that she will be seeking reelection next year.
President Joe Biden is also adamant that he will run again, which would make him 86 at the end of his second term in 2028 if he succeeds.
In a statement released by the White House, the president remembered Ms. Feinstein for her courage and dedication.
“Senator Dianne Feinstein was a pioneering American. A true trailblazer,” Mr. Biden said. “She’s made history in so many ways, and our country will benefit from her legacy for generations.”
The president recognized Ms. Feinstein for her leadership and her role in encouraging more women to run for political office.
“Often the only woman in the room, Dianne was a role model for so many Americans–a job she took seriously by mentoring countless public servants, many of whom now serve in my Administration,” Mr. Biden said. “She had an immense impact on younger female leaders for whom she generously opened doors. 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.”
Former President Barack Obama echoed the words of gratitude for Ms. Feinstein that many wrote about throughout the day.
“The best politicians get into public service because they care about this country and the people they represent,” Mr. Obama posted on X. “That was certainly true of Dianne Feinstein, and all of us are better for it.”
Travis Gillmore

Travis Gillmore


Travis Gillmore is an avid reader and journalism connoisseur based in California covering finance, politics, the State Capitol, and breaking news for The Epoch Times.

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