Feinstein Takes Oath as U.S. Senator


Seeking to capitalize on a “unique opportunity,” Dianne Feinstein was officially sworn in Tuesday as California’s first woman senator.

The normally stolid Senate floor rocked with enthusiastic applause before and after Feinstein placed her left hand on a Bible held by her husband, financier Richard C. Blum, and took the oath of office.

Symbolic of her campaign pledge to change the status quo, Feinstein broke the Senate’s longstanding tradition of holding swearing-in ceremonies when Congress is not in session in the historic old Senate chamber. The event was moved at Feinstein’s request to the current Senate chamber to accommodate the more than 300 supporters who attended.


Afterward, Feinstein wrapped her arms around three Democratic women who will join her in the Senate--Sen. Barbara Mikulski of Maryland, Sen.-Elect Carol Moseley Braun of Illinois and fellow Californian Barbara Boxer. The crowd seated in the gallery above the marble-columned walls of the Senate chamber responded with sustained, rousing cheers.

“I have a chance to work with a President of my own party (and) to be able to craft policy,” Feinstein said in an interview after the ceremony. “That’s kind of a 10. It doesn’t often happen that way. It’s a unique opportunity.”

Feinstein, 59, the former San Francisco mayor, was sworn in two months ahead of 10 other new senators because she was elected to fill the unexpired six-year term of Republican Gov. Pete Wilson. Feinstein handily defeated John Seymour, whom Wilson appointed in January, 1991, to temporarily replace him.

The official swearing-in gives Feinstein a seniority advantage over her freshmen colleagues, ranking her 90th in the 100-member senate. This should help Feinstein gain everything from better committee assignments to more desirable office space.

Tuesday’s brief ceremony was witnessed by about two dozen senators from their wooden, school-like seats on the Senate floor. Also in attendance were Feinstein family members and several San Francisco Bay Area Democrats from the state’s House delegation, including Nancy Pelosi, George Miller, Don Edwards and Ron Dellums.

Feinstein paused and acknowledged a prolonged standing ovation when she entered the chamber. As Feinstein approached the Senate chair, someone in the audience yelled, “God bless you, Dianne!”

The oath was administered by Senate President Pro Tem Robert C. Byrd (D-W. Va.), who later gave Feinstein a thick, two-volume treatise he wrote on the history of the Senate. Feinstein then kissed her husband before turning and shaking hands with Majority Leader George Mitchell (D-Maine).

Feinstein signed and dated the one-page oath of office, which was promptly delivered to the Senate clerk’s office so she could begin receiving her $129,500 annual salary.

Feinstein then walked to the old Senate chamber, where the ceremony was re-enacted for photographers. She later joined friends and family members for a private luncheon in a nearby Senate office building.

“It’s a great day for Californians,” said Boxer, who will be sworn in with the rest of the newly elected senators on Jan. 5. “They put a team in the Senate. There’s a lot of excitement to us, I think.”

Feinstein comes to the Senate with high hopes of having an immediate impact in helping turn around California’s ailing economy. She will be under pressure to perform quickly because she must run for reelection in two years.

Feinstein can expect to receive support from her colleagues, Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.) said Tuesday.

“When I first came here, you waited two years to speak,” Kennedy said. “Now the world is entirely different. I think there is a real sense that (Feinstein) has every opportunity to make her mark. Everyone’s certainly hopeful that she will.”

Feinstein has spent the last several days in Washington indoctrinating herself to the tasks and responsibilities of a U.S. senator. She attended a two-day orientation session, did some house hunting, appeared on the Larry King television show Tuesday night and began thinking about hiring a staff. About 2,000 leftover inquiries from constituents who wrote to Seymour’s office await her staff’s arrival.

“It’s a little crazy right now,” said press aide Seth Oster as phones rang off the hook. “We’re getting used to the Washington scene.”

Feinstein took over the Senate offices occupied by Seymour shortly after the election. The seal on the office was changed over the weekend to bear her name. Seymour staffers have been given the rest of the week to pack up belongings and vacate two office suites. They spent much of Tuesday writing resumes and pursuing jobs.

Feinstein has not spoken with Seymour since Election Day, although he left a telephone message with her on Friday, a Feinstein spokesman said. Feinstein is planning to live in Washington during the week while her husband continues to work as an investment banker in San Francisco.

Before leaving for California on Thursday, Feinstein is expected to spend much of today in private meetings to discuss the hiring of her staff. She is gathering advice from current senators to assist her in selecting a chief of staff.

Among those currently helping Feinstein in her transition efforts are campaign manager Kam Kuwata, Roz Wyman, the first woman elected to the Los Angeles City Council, and Bob McCarthy, a San Francisco attorney.

The only employee hired so far is Bill Chandler, a campaign spokesman who is expected to become Feinstein’s communications director in charge of press relations and speech writing. Previously, Chandler served as press secretary to Los Angeles Mayor Tom Bradley.

“It has all happened very fast for me,” Feinstein said. “My thoughts are to try to get us up and running as fast as possible (and) to be able to really confront the problems that face this nation. There has been a good deal of neglect over the course of many years.”