The death of Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) at 90 may set up a significant series of changes in the Senate and in wider American policy. Feinstein, also the former mayor of San Francisco, served in the Senate for 30 years and has been noted for her positions on climate change and gun control.
Feinstein was last elected in 2018, leaving her seat open before next year’s elections. The decision to replace the late senator comes down to California Gov. Gavin Newsom (D), who previously promised to appoint a Black woman in her place if she retired or passed away.
When asked if he was considering such an appointment, he said that he had “multiple names in mind. We have multiple names in mind — and the answer is yes.”
The open Senate seat may also encourage a political battle that had started even before her death. So far, Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA), Rep. Barbara Lee (D-CA) and Rep. Katie Porter (D-CA) all declared their intention to run for the seat next year.
Lee and current Vice President Kamala Harris would all fit the governor’s promise of appointing a Black woman to the chamber. Harris had previously served alongside Feinstein as the other senator from California prior to becoming vice president in 2021.
The senator’s career was marked by a number of significant policy pushes, including for strict gun control. Feinstein was a co-sponsor of a ban on a number of semi-automatic weapons in 1994.
She also made headlines by disagreeing with a number of young climate change protesters in her later years in the Senate.
RIP to Senator Feinstein. May her memory be a blessing.
My favorite Feinstein moment was her telling off a bunch of kids being used by climate activists to try to guilt Senators into bad policy: pic.twitter.com/fzso9laPJp
— AG (@AGHamilton29) September 29, 2023
Feinstein had been ailing in recent years, including being visibly slower in the Senate. She also had an extended absence from Congress earlier this year that raised significant questions about her ability to serve in the body.
While her passing was not entirely unexpected, the political fight it may set up could be one that places the balance of power, if not party, in question leading up to next year’s elections.