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On Capitol Hill, somber tributes to Sen. Feinstein the fighter

An Oct. 2017 photo of Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) at a lunch hosted by the Greater Riverside Chamber of Commerce Convention Center in Riverside, Calif.  (Irfan Khan/Los Angeles Times/TNS)
By Alexandra E. Petri, Sarah D. Wire and Erin B. Logan Los Angeles Times

Trailblazer. Warrior. Titan. Stateswoman. Patriot. Negotiator. Collegial. Mentor. Icon.

These are just some of the ways leaders across the political world described Dianne Feinstein early Friday after news broke that the senator died at the age of 90 overnight after a record career as California’s longest-serving U.S. senator.

In a statement confirming Feinstein’s death, her chief of staff James Sauls described her as a fierce and extraordinary leader who was committed to California and the nation.

“Senator Feinstein never backed away from a fight for what was just and right,” Sauls said. “There are few women who can be called senator, chairman, mayor, wife, mom and grandmother. Senator Feinstein was a force of nature who made an incredible impact on our country and her home state.”

Across the country, those who worked with Feinstein reflected on her path from San Francisco to Capitol Hill and her legislative resume, from championing gun control legislation to civil rights. She was remembered as a fighter who was willing to work with lawmakers across the aisle and as a pioneer who opened the door for countless other women to seek office.

President Joe Biden called Feinstein a “pioneering American” and “a powerful voice for American values” in a statement released by the White House.

On Capitol Hill, a vase of white roses sat on top of a black cloth on her desk in the Senate chamber Friday morning.

The Senate chaplain included Feinstein in the opening prayer, and Sens. Charles E. Schumer, D-N.Y., and Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., devoted their opening remarks to her.

Feinstein’s daughter, Katherine, took a seat in the gallery alongside Rep. Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif.

“Senator Dianne Feinstein was one of the most amazing people who ever graced the Senate, who ever graced the country,” Schumer, the majority leader, said. “She was smart, she was strong, she was brave, she was compassionate. But maybe the trait that stood out the most to us was her amazing integrity. Her integrity was a diamond.”

McConnell, the Senate minority leader, said Feinstein had given him “a small depiction of the Capitol” as a wedding gift that still hangs on his wall, noting that he looked at it Friday morning and remembered her as a “truly remarkable individual.”

“She was an incredibly effective person at every level on the way to the Senate,” he said. “Those of us fortunate to call Senator Feinstein our colleague can say we served alongside the longest-serving female senator in American history.”

Sen. Alex Padilla, D-Calif., remembered how Feinstein gave him one of his first jobs in her Los Angeles office when he was a rookie politician. “It’s, in part, thanks to her groundbreaking career that a Latino son of immigrants could one day not just work for her, but work alongside her to keep up the fight for the American Dream,” Padilla said.

Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, showed the chamber a watercolor of flowers in a vase that Feinstein had painted and given to her. She said Feinstein organized a reception for her engagement and bought all the female senators seersucker suits to participate in an annual Senate tradition known as seersucker Thursday.

Later, on the House floor, Pelosi paid homage to Feinstein with much of the California delegation huddled around her. Republicans and Democrats alike stood for roughly 30 seconds in silence to honor the late senator.

“Her legacy will be a long one that we will all be inspired by, but today at this time, just hours since her passing, rather than talk about her, let us just pray that she rests in peace,” Pelosi said.

In delivered remarks, the former House speaker highlighted Feinstein’s record as San Francisco’s first female mayor, when she led the city in the wake of the assassinations of Harvey Milk and George Moscone, and through the deadly HIV/AIDS epidemic.

“She stayed on, and she left on her own terms,” Pelosi said, adding that she led “with great dignity, with great effectiveness and great leadership.”

Feinstein was an “indomitable, indefatigable” leader, Pelosi said in a statement. The pair were not just colleagues but close friends who lived on the same street.

“It was a great honor to serve alongside Dianne for decades – from the hilly streets of San Francisco to the hallowed halls of Congress,” she said.

Earlier Friday morning, House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., released a statement calling Feinstein’s career historic.

“She truly cared about Californians and sought to find common ground to advance the interests of the Golden State,” McCarthy said.

Tributes to the senator also poured in online and in statements.

California Gov. Gavin Newsom cited Feinstein’s legacy as a “trailblazing U.S. Senator; an early voice for gun control; a leader in times of tragedy and chaos.” in a statement on X, formerly known as Twitter.

“She was a political giant, whose tenacity was matched by her grace,” Newsom, who is now tasked with appointing her replacement, said. “She broke down barriers and glass ceilings, but never lost her belief in the spirit of political cooperation.”

Vice President Kamala Harris said in a statement that Feinstein inspired generations of women to run for office, and that she was honored to serve as senator alongside Feinstein. “I saw firsthand how she worked courageously to ensure that our leadership was guided by our nation’s values,” Harris said.

Former President Barack Obama also reflected on getting to know Feinstein during their time together in the Senate, emphasizing her advocacy for gun control and civil rights.

“The best politicians get into public service because they care about this country and the people they represent,” Obama said in a statement. “That was certainly true of Dianne Feinstein, and all of us are better for it.”

Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, praised Feinstein for her “outstanding work” representing the people of California. “We had a wonderful working relationship,” Grassley wrote. “She’s a true public servant. I’ll miss her.”

Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., on X called Feinstein a “political pioneer” who was “intelligent, hard working & always treated everyone with courtesy & respect.”

Leaders from every level of politics across the Golden State reflected on Feinstein’s career. In Los Angeles, Mayor Karen Bass ordered that flags be flown half-staff at city buildings. Feinstein was “a trailblazer on whose shoulders I, and women in elected office all across America, will always stand,” Bass said.

Flags were also lowered to half-staff in San Francisco, where Mayor London Breed called Feinstein “an amazing source of strength” who gave her regular advice, and someone who “still believed in San Francisco as an extraordinary place.”

“She really is a part of the fabric of San Francisco,” Breed said, adding that a condolence book will be available at City Hall for members of the public to sign.


(Los Angeles Times staff writers Kevin Rector and Noah Bierman contributed to this report.)