WASHINGTON – Sen. Dianne Feinstein ended a very personal campaign when she welcomed Hillary Rodham Clinton and Barack Obama to her home Thursday for their first meeting since Obama wrapped up the Democratic presidential nomination.
In 1978, the San Francisco Democrat was among the first women to become mayor of a major American city. Fourteen years later, she and Barbara Boxer became California’s first female U.S. senators. This year, she ardently hoped Clinton would become the first woman to occupy the White House.
But Thursday at 9 p.m., it fell to Feinstein to help guide Clinton’s historic campaign to a close. “It’s a very hard loss,” Feinstein said Friday, reflecting on her bittersweet duty this week. “I wanted very much to see her succeed,”
Feinstein, who went to Washington when Bill Clinton was elected president, has known Hillary Clinton for more than 15 years. Shortly after Feinstein moved to the capital, the Clintons invited her to the White House when she was alone on her birthday. Both Clintons campaigned frequently for her in California, although Feinstein at times broke with the White House on pieces of legislation – and was infuriated by Bill Clinton’s lies about his affair with Monica S. Lewinsky.
When Hillary Clinton was gearing up her presidential run last summer, Feinstein was among the first of her Senate colleagues to offer an endorsement, noting the former first lady’s path-breaking candidacy.
By early May, however, Feinstein had begun to openly worry about the bitter tone of the primary battle.
After Obama extended his delegate lead by defeating Clinton handily in the North Carolina primary and narrowly losing Indiana, Feinstein said, she wanted to talk to Clinton about her strategy. “I think the race is reaching the point where there are negative dividends from it, in terms of strife within the party,” she said at the time.
This week, as Clinton’s apparent reluctance to leave the race generated increasing consternation among Democratic officials, she talked with Feinstein about sitting down with Obama.
“She wanted something that was private. She said, ‘I can’t go anywhere,’ ” Feinstein said.
The California senator told Clinton that she would happily offer the privacy of her home, which sits behind a fence on a street with no parking in a leafy section of Washington. And Obama, Feinstein said Friday, “was very gracious. He said he would go wherever, wherever Sen. Clinton wanted.”
When the candidates arrived Thursday, “I received them, put them in the living room in two comfortable chairs facing one another, and left,” said Feinstein, who went upstairs. After about an hour, she said, Obama came out and said, “Dianne, we’re finished.”
“I came down and said: ‘Good night, everybody. I hope you had a good meeting.’ They were both laughing, and that was it.”