Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), one of the Senate’s most prominent women, has died at the age of 90, her office announced Friday.
Feinstein served three decades as a senator from California, becoming an icon and a trailblazer in the process.
A former mayor of San Francisco, Feinstein is the longest-serving member of the Senate Democratic conference and during her Senate tenure left a mark on a range of issues, including national security and gun control.
The senator passed away at her home in Washington, D.C., Thursday night, only hours after casting the last vote of her long, storied career: a “yes” on the motion to proceed to a funding bill to keep the government from shutting down.
She was the longest-serving woman senator in American history.
Colleagues placed a crystal vase of white roses atop a black shroud draped over her Senate desk.
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) asked the Senate Friday morning to observe a moment of silence for Feinstein, choking up on the floor with emotion as he made the request.
“Earlier this morning, we lost a giant,” Schumer announced somberly on the Senate floor, hailing her “integrity,” her work to ban assault weapons in the mid-1990s and her work to uncover the CIA’s torture of detainees during the global war on terror.
“Today we grieve,” Schumer said, his voice choking up with emotion. “We look at that desk, we know what we have lost.
He called her “a friend, a hero for so many” and “a leader that changed the nature of the Senate and who changed the fabric of the nation.”
One of her biggest legislative accomplishments was an amendment to ban the sale and manufacture of assault-style weapons, which then-President Clinton signed into law in 1994 and lasted for a decade.
At the end of 2014, as then-chairwoman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, Feinstein released a bombshell 500-page public report on the CIA’s secret interrogation program, which later became the basis of a movie starring Annette Bening and Adam Driver.
Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) stood up to speak after Schumer, telling colleagues that he considered Feinstein a real friend.
He told colleagues that he and his wife Elaine Chao, the former secretary of Transportation, would often have dinner with Feinstein and her husband, who served on a corporate board with McConnell’s wife.
“I remember Dianne gave us a small depiction of the Capitol. I looked at [it] this morning because it’s still on the wall and remembered our dear colleague,” he said.
Other senators took to the floor to share anecdotes of Feinstein’s personal generosity.
Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) remembered that after she once complimented Feinstein on one of purses, Feinstein ordered another just like it and sent it to Murray as a gift.
Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) remembered that Feinstein bought seersucker suits for all of the women senators so they could participate in the Senate’s “Seersucker Thursday” tradition.
In a statement, Feinstein’s office said, “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.”
Feinstein had been struggling with her health and had missed some work this week.
“She didn’t feel well this morning,” Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) said Thursday, noting Feinstein was unable to attend a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing.
Punchbowl News first reported Feinstein’s death.
Feinstein had taken part in Senate votes Thursday morning.
She had to rely on a wheelchair to get around the Senate after she missed nearly three months of work in Washington because of a severe bout with shingles earlier this year.
She was first elected to the Senate in 1992, which became known as the Senate’s “year of the woman” after Murray and then-Sens. Carol Moseley Braun (D-Ill.) and Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) were elected that same year.
Feinstein’s death leaves a vacancy on the powerful Judiciary Committee and shrinks the Senate Democratic majority to 50 seats.
California Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) will appoint her temporary replacement.
Former Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), a longtime close friend of Feinstein’s, said she and her family were “heartbroken” to learn of her passing.
“Dianne was a pioneering woman leader, who served as San Francisco’s first female Mayor with unmatched courage, poise and grace,” she said in a statement.
“In the United States Senate, she was a champion for the Golden State: bringing home billions of federal dollars while defending our state’s natural wonders,” Pelosi said, also noting her work to “stem the tide of mass shootings” and her “fierce opposition to the use of torture.”
“A fierce champion for gender justice, her tireless advocacy was consequential in securing the reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act.”
Pelosi paid tribute to Feinstein’s sudden ascension to acting mayor of San Francisco after the assassination of Mayor George Moscone and Supervisor Harvey Milk in 1978.
“Standing strong amid horror and heartbreak – from the brutal murders of Harvey Milk and George Moscone to the deadly HIV/AIDs epidemic – she offered our City a beacon of strength and hope,” said Pelosi, whose district represents San Francisco.
California Sen. Alex Padilla (D) also broke down with emotion on the Senate floor paying tribute to Feinstein, hailing her as a “towering figure.”
Republican Sen. Thom Tillis (N.C.), who served with Feinstein on the Senate Judiciary Committee, praised her as a “trailblazer.”
“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,” he said.
— Updated at 10:54 a.m.