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Updated Sep 29, 2023, 1:04pm EDT
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Fighting sexism, guns, and the CIA: Dianne Feinstein’s legacy

Senator Diane Feinstein (D-CA) walks past a guard at the U.S. Capitol on her way to the impeachment trial of President Clinton in Washington.
Reuters/File Photo
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Following the death of Sen. Dianne Feinstein, the longest-serving female senator in U.S. history, she was remembered Friday as a political trailblazer.

A former mayor of San Francisco, she served over 30 years in the Senate and authored consequential legislation on guns, civil rights, and the CIA’s torture practices.

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The sexism Feinstein faced when she started in local politics in the 1970s included newspaper coverage that questioned whether her husband was “humbled or intimidated” now that his “little lady” was in the limelight, Jerry Roberts writes in The Washington Post. Given how many barriers she broke since then, her death “seems far more than the end of a mere era — more like the passing of an eon.” Throughout her career, Roberts recalled, Feinstein was determined to defy the odds in a political field dominated by men.

She authored the 1994 Federal Assault Weapons Ban, which put a 10-year restriction on civilians purchasing semi-automatic rifles. Feinstein was a lonely voice fighting against gun violence,” and the modern anti-gun violence movement wouldn’t exist without her advocacy, said Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn. Before that, she passed a ban on handguns in San Francisco when she was mayor, leading to a recall vote which she survived.

Nearly four terms into her Senate tenure, Feinstein made a “late career of not quite pleasing anyone,” The New Yorker wrote in 2015. She fought the CIA and the Obama White House over the partial release of a massive CIA report on its torture practices, following an investigation that Feinstein called for. “From the first time Feinstein was briefed about the program, she opposed it." She later called the practices detailed in the report a ”stain on our values and on our history.”

Her death opens up a Senate seat that California Gov. Gavin Newsom will have to fill. Newsom has pledged to appoint a Black woman to the post, and recently said that whoever he appoints wouldn’t be able to run for the seat in 2024. That frustrated Rep. Barbara Lee, a candidate who would be the state’s second Black senator, but who has lagged in polls. She opposes the idea “that a Black woman should be appointed only as a caretaker to simply check a box.”

— David Weigel contributed reporting

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