Dianne Feinstein retires: Looking back on tragedy, triumph and her contentious perseverance

Black-and-white image of Dianne Feinstein, her arms outstretched in celebration, sitting behing a desk in her office.
Dianne Feinstein in her office after she was elected mayor of San Francisco, circa 1978.
(Nick Allen / Pictorial Parade via Getty Images)

Sen. Dianne Feinstein, California’s longest-serving senator, announced Tuesday that she will not run for reelection next year. Here’s a look at her storied career in politics, which included both tragedy and triumph.


1969: Elected to the San Francisco Board of Supervisors

A black-and-white image of a man, woman and young girl, all smiling.
Dianne Feinstein with her husband, Dr. Bertram Feinstein, and daughter Kathy after being elected to the San Francisco Board of Supervisors in 1969.
(Associated Press)

At 36, Dianne Feinstein was the first woman ever elected to the San Francisco Board of Supervisors without having first been appointed to the panel. It was her first bid for political office. She later served as the board’s president.


1978: Assassination of George Moscone and Harvey Milk

A black-and-white image  of five people, including then Mayor Dianne Feinstein, top left, bowing their heads
Dianne Feinstein, top left, then president of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors, bows her head with others in a moment of silence for Mayor George Moscone and Supervisor Harvey Milk, who were shot to death at City Hall on Nov. 27, 1978. Moscone’s slaying elevated Feinstein to the mayor’s office.
(A. Cope / Associate Press)

Feinstein became acting mayor of San Francisco after the murders of Mayor George Mascone and Supervisor Harvey Milk by a City Hall colleague on Nov. 27. She was the first woman mayor of San Francisco, holding office for about 10 years. During her tenure, she was named the nation’s most effective mayor in 1987 by City and State magazine and helped save the city’s iconic cable cars.


1984: Defeated an attempted recall

Black-and-white image: Dianne Feinstein flashes a victory sign as her husband holds a sweatshirt that says Register and Vote
Dianne Feinstein waves to supporters as her husband, Dick Blum, holds a T-shirt urging voters to keep her in office in a recall election on April 26, 1983. Feinstein’s first husband, Bertran Feinstein, died in 1978.
(Paul Sakuma / Associated Press)

A recall campaign to oust Feinstein was pushed by the White Panthers, a counterculture-era Haight-Ashbury political commune, and rejected by 82% of San Francisco voters. The recall was launched because of her support for a ban on handguns that was signed into law four years after the City Hall assassinations.


1990: Ran unsuccessfully for governor

Flanked by four men, Feinstein makes an address from a lectern with a sign that reads "Dianne Feinstein for Governor."
Dianne Feinstein campaigns for governor with other office holders and candidates in San Francisco on June 6, 1990.
(Sal Veder / Associated Press)


Feinstein ran unsuccessfully for governor of California in 1990. Although she won the Democratic nomination, she was defeated in the general election by Republican Pete Wilson. She lost with about 45% of the vote, winning Los Angeles and her native San Francisco.


1992: Year of the woman

Dianne Feinstein, left, and Barbara Boxer raise their hands in victory.
Democrats Dianne Feinstein, left, and Barbara Boxer, shown at an appearance in Burbank on June 3, 1992, joined forces in running for California’s U.S. Senate seats after winning their respective primaries.
(Paul Sakuma / Associated Press)

Feinstein won a seat in the Senate in a special election held to fill the vacant seat of Pete Wilson, who resigned to become governor of California after defeating Feinstein for that post. Voters also elected Barbara Boxer to the Senate in what would become known as the “year of the woman.” Feinstein was sworn in before Boxer, making her the first woman senator to represent California.


1994: Assault weapons ban

A woman dressed in white holds up an advertisement for a  shotgun at a news conference
Sen. Dianne Feinstein holds up an advertisement for a shotgun during a news conference on Capitol Hill to discuss her proposed assault weapons ban on May 2, 1994.
(John Duricka / Associated Press)

Feinstein wrote the 1994 federal legislation banning assault weapons, which prohibited the sale, transfer, manufacture and importation of semiautomatic and military-grade arms. The ban expired in 2004, but research shows that it reduced firearm-related homicides by at least 6.7%, decreased the use of assault weapons in crime by about two-thirds, and prevented mass shootings during those ten years.


2014: CIA and torture

Sen. Dianne Feinstein speaks to reporters on Capitol Hill.
Senate Intelligence Committee Chair Sen. Dianne Feinstein speaks to reporters on Capitol Hill after releasing a report on the CIA’s harsh interrogation techniques at secret overseas facilities after the 9/11 terror attacks.
(J. Scott Applewhite / Associated Press)

Feinstein released the Senate’s executive summary of a classified report detailing the CIA’s use of torture after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. The report revealed that the CIA’s secret detention and interrogation program had produced false confessions and fabricated information, and that the use of torture had produced no useful intelligence about imminent terrorist attacks. Feinstein said the CIA had engaged in activities that were “a stain on our values and our history.”


2018: Brett Kavanaugh

Judiciary Committee Chair Charles Grassley and ranking Democrat Dianne Feinstein listen to Christine Blasey Ford testify
Chairman Charles Grassley of Iowa and ranking member Dianne Feinstein of California listen to Christine Blasey Ford’s testimony during the Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on the nomination of Brett M. Kavanaugh to be an associate justice of the Supreme Court, focusing on allegations of sexual assault by Kavanaugh against Blasey Ford in the early 1980s.
(Tom Williams / Associated Press)

Feinstein became a central figure in the Senate confirmation of President Trump’s Supreme Court nominee Brett M. Kavanaugh after receiving a letter from a California woman who said she’d been sexually assaulted by Kavanaugh when they were in high school. After a hearing regarding the allegations, the committee voted 11-10 along party lines to move forward with the confirmation. Kavanaugh was sworn into office in October with a 50-48 vote.


2018: Rejected by own party

Dianne Feinstein greets supporters after speaking at an election night event in San Francisco.
Sen. Dianne Feinstein greets supporters after speaking at an election night event in San Francisco on Nov. 6, 2018.
(Jeff Chiu / Associated Press)


Feinstein surprised many when she announced her campaign for a sixth term in the Senate in 2018 election instead of retiring as many expected. Although she lost the endorsement of the California Democratic Party to Kevin de León, she defeated him in the general election 54%-46%.


2020: The hug that infuriated anti-Trump Democrats

Sen. Dianne Feinstein hugs Sen. Lindsey Graham
Sen. Dianne Feinstein hugs Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) at the close of the confirmation hearing for Supreme Court nominee Amy Coney Barrett before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Oct. 15, 2020, in Washington.
(Samuel Corum / Associated Press)

Feinstein faced criticism from Democrats for praising Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham’s management of confirmation hearings for President Trump’s Supreme Court nominee Amy Coney Barrett, who was confirmed days before the 2020 election. Frustration had been mounting for liberals who thought that Feinstein, 87, was no longer fit to serve in office.


2022: Became the longest-serving female senator in U.S. history.

Wearing a blue suit Sen. Dianne Feinstein walks through a corridor on Capitol Hill.
Sen. Dianne Feinstein leaves a committee hearing on Capitol Hill on April 14, 2021.
(Kent Nishimura / Los Angeles Times)

Feinstein became the longest-serving female senator in U.S. history with 30 years in office. “We went from two women senators when I ran for office in 1992 to 24 today — and I know that number will keep climbing,” she said in a release.