America’s longest-sitting senator, California Democrat Dianne Feinstein, has passed away at the age of 90.
Feinstein, who was the oldest member of the US Senate, suffered multiple health and memory problems in recent years, but declined to step down from her post despite the urging of fellow Democrats. She passed away Thursday night at her home in Washington DC.
A powerful advocate for women’s rights, the senator was elected to her post after an historic political career in San Francisco, where she broke through numerous glass ceilings. She served at her post longer than any other woman, and planned to retire next year, at the end of her current term.
Feinstein authored the 1994 Federal Assault Weapons Ban. She was the first woman to have chaired the Senate Rules Committee and the Senate Intelligence Committee and the first woman to have presided over a US presidential inauguration.
Born Dianne Emiel Goldman, Feinstein was a native of San Francisco. Her paternal grandparents were Jewish immigrants from Poland. Her maternal grandparents were from Saint Petersburg, Russia, with German-Jewish ancestry, but practiced Russian Orthodox Christianity. Feinstein attended a Jewish day school before her mother transferred her to a local Catholic school. Nevertheless, Feinstein listed her own faith as Judaism.
The senator served as the first female president of the city’s Board of Supervisors in 1978, and then succeeded George Moscone at the city’s mayor, the first woman to do so. She became the state’s first female senator when elected in November 1992 in a special election.
“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,” said Feinstein’s chief of staff, James Sauls, in a statement.
The senator’s death leaves a vacancy in a powerful seat in the chamber, one that forces California Governor Gavin Newsom into the deciding on a temporary replacement as the Congress enters the final hours of a debate on whether to approve a temporary short-term funding plan to avoid a looming government shutdown.
The Senate, almost evenly divided between Republicans and Democrats, must vote on the plan in less than two days. In the House of Representatives, a similar battle is taking place over a separate stopgap funding bill.