Sen. Dianne Feinstein, the longest-serving female senator in U.S. history, has died at 90

WASHINGTON−Sen. Dianne Feinstein, a trailblazer for women in politics who spent more than 30 years in the U.S. Senate, has died, a source familiar with the matter told USA TODAY. She was 90 and the oldest member of the Senate.

Known for working across the aisle while championing progressive causes, she planned to retire at the end of her term after facing concerns about her health and calls to resign.

She made history as the first woman elected as mayor in San Francisco and the first woman in the Senate from the state of California. Feinstein was the first woman to chair the powerful Senate Rules and Senate Intelligence committees

Many parts of American life have been marked by her fingerprints, from fighting for an assault weapons ban in 1994 to enshrining marriage equality into law in 2022. She also ushered Amber Alerts and the Violence Against Women Act.

Feinstein was especially passionate about gun control. Early in her Senate career, Feinstein championed gun control advocacy authoring the 1994 assault weapons ban which then President Bill Clinton signed into law. Since the law expired in 2004, Feinstein spearheaded further efforts for stronger gun control legislation.

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The last vote Feinstein took was Thursday morning in a Senate effort to prevent a government shutdown.

Breaking barriers

Former first lady and 2016 Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton said Feinstein “blazed trails for women in politics and found a life's calling in public service. I'll miss her greatly as a friend and colleague and send my condolences to all who loved her.”

Health concerns

Feinstein had been dogged by health problems during her last months in office, which had spurred calls from progressive lawmakers to resign during her last months in office.

For at least three months she had been sidelined from the Senate with shingles. She also was briefly hospitalized after suffering a fall at her California home, and had been reportedly confused when taking certain votes. Other reports said the longtime senator had turned her power of attorney over to her daughter.

Those incidents sparked a larger conversation about the age of U.S. officials, including President Joe Biden and Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell, who are in their early 80s.

McConnell had two public health scares this year where he abruptly stopped speaking at press conferences, which raised questions and concerns about his health.

The GOP leader’s doctor released a letter in August clearing the Kentucky Republican to continue with his work schedule, saying he has experienced "occasional lightheadedness," from dehydration and a previous concussion due to a fall at a Washington, D.C. hotel earlier this year. 

McConnell, who was first elected in 1984, fell at least two other times in previously unreported incidents, USA TODAY learned.

Similarly, Biden’s age has remained a persistent pebble in his shoe with Democratic voters.

Those concerns have been magnified at different points as he gears up for reelection, such as a dramatic spill the president took while passing out diplomas to Air Force Academy graduates in June. Critics regularly call attention to awkward moments in Biden’s speeches and circulate clips to highlight those concerns as Democratic allies seek to downplay the age and mental capacity questions.

The worries have seeped into the consciousness for a significant portion of voters too.

Thirty-seven percent of Democratic and Independent voters say Biden’s age makes them less likely to vote for him, according to a recent USA TODAY/Suffolk University poll. 

This story is breaking and will be updated.

Contributing: The Associated Press

Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., returns to the Senate Judiciary Committee following a more than two-month absence at the Capitol in Washington, Thursday, May 11, 2023.

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