Live Updates

Senator Dianne Feinstein Dies at 90: Live Updates

Follow live updates from KQED reporters following the death of Senator Dianne Feinstein, 90, the longest-serving U.S. senator in California history.

Newsom called on to make good on promise to appoint Black woman to Senate seat

Gov. Gavin Newsom faced renewed calls on Friday to fulfill his promise to appoint a Black woman to California’s newly vacant U.S. Senate seat, after the death of Senator Dianne Feinstein. 

In a letter to the governor, Derrick Johnson, president and CEO of the NAACP and Rick Callender, president of the organization’s California Hawaii State Conference, told Newsom that “the time has come for you to keep your promise and not let Californians or the nation down.” 

Newsom made his vow to fill a vacant Senate seat with a Black woman in 2021, as he faced a recall campaign. Months earlier, Newsom had appointed Alex Padilla to the Senate seat left vacant by Kamala Harris. Harris was only the second Black woman to serve in the Senate in U.S. history. 

Aimee Allison, founder of She the People, an organization which advocates for women of color in politics, said Newsom should appoint Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Oakland) who is already running for Feinstein’s Senate seat. 

“Governor Newsom’s appointment of Congressmember Lee would fulfill his promise and reaffirm his commitment to inclusion, equity and the fact that he is a man of his word,” Allison said. “Not just by half-measures, but by putting his full support for a Black woman to be in the Senate long-term.” 

But Newsom has resisted the idea of giving Lee a leg up in the Senate race by appointing her to Feinstein’s seat. 

“It would be completely unfair to the Democrats that have worked their tail off,” he told NBC’s Meet the Press earlier this month. “That primary is just a matter of months away. I don’t want to tip the balance of that.” 

On Friday, Lee declined to comment on the race, telling KQED “I’m not discussing any political issues as it relates to Senator Feinstein. She just passed.”

Back when London Breed played in 'Dianne Feinstein's band'

More than three decades before she became mayor of San Francisco, London Breed played the french horn in her Benjamin Franklin Middle School band for one of her predecessors – then-Mayor Dianne Feinstein.

After sharing the anecdote with reporters Friday, Breed passed along her junior high school photos to KQED, one of which shows Breed playing for Feinstein at the bottom of City Hall’s steps. 

A group of people watch a number of young people play music.
Then-Mayor Dianne Feinstein (in red) listens as a young London Breed’s junior high school band plays at San Francisco City Hall. The back of Breed’s head is visible at lower right. (Courtesy of Office of the Mayor of San Francisco)

“We worked so hard to get ready to play for her right here at City Hall. We were known as ‘Dianne Feinstein’s band.’ Any time there was any event activity or what have you, we basically were chosen as the band to perform for any occasion,” Breed said.

Feinstein and Breed are the only women to have served as mayors of San Francisco. But long before politics joined them in the city’s history, and long before Feinstein would mentor Breed in guiding the city of St. Francis, Feinstein took delight in hearing a young Breed play music.

A group of young people in uniforms play musical instruments in an indoor location.
A young London Breed (bottom left) plays french horn with her junior high school band. (Courtesy of Office of the Mayor of San Francisco)

“There was a level of pride to be in front of the mayor, to watch the mayor witness us play,” Breed said. Feinstein also took the time to talk to the student bandmembers, “and to remind us that we were her band.” 

A group of young people sit at a table and smile at the camera.
Mayor London Breed (left), eats a snack with other members of her junior high band. (Courtesy of Office of the Mayor of San Francisco)

Feinstein bought the band sweaters, which Breed said they wore “proudly,” including when they played for Feinstein at the Fairmont Hotel after the 49ers won the Superbowl. Feinstein even introduced the young band-members to 49ers legend Joe Montana.

“Let me tell you, that was one of the best moments of my life,” Breed said.

Now, decades later, as Breed herself is mayor, it’s a little-kept secret that one of her favorite parts of the job is talking to kids, and inspiring them in exactly the same way

Mourners share remembrances of Feinstein at San Francisco City Hall

Following the news of Sen. Dianne Feinstein’s death, many pundits and politicos praised her congressional efforts on gun control, her pioneering support of the LGBTQ community, and her steady hand leading San Francisco after Mayor George Moscone’s assassination in 1978. 

But on the fourth floor of San Francisco City Hall, Friday, city resident John Toupin wrote a letter of appreciation to Feinstein for a far simpler reason – she was there when he needed her. 

The bust of a person beside a large bouquet of flowers.
A bust of late Sen. Dianne Feinstein is seen outside Mayor London Breed’s office at City Hall in San Francisco on Friday, Sept. 29, 2023. (Juliana Yamada/KQED)

Toupin, who is now 71, served in the Navy and arrived home from Vietnam suffering from PTSD. When he failed to get mental health support from Veterans Affairs, he phoned San Francisco politicians aplenty for help. 

Only Feinstein returned his calls.

“She not only got back (to me), but if I didn’t fill out the form correctly, someone got back to me and said ‘you need to do this.’ She never blew me off,” Toupin told reporters.

A person writes on a piece of paper beside a large bouquet of flowers.
Longtime supporter of Sen. Dianne Feinstein Spanky Woods writes his remembrances of the late senator at City Hall in San Francisco on Friday, Sept. 29, 2023. (Juliana Yamada/KQED)

Mayor London Breed announced Friday that City Hall would lay out pen and paper (emblazoned with the city’s seal) for the public to write remembrances about Sen. Feinstein on Friday, until 4pm, and again on Monday, 10 a.m.-4 p.m.

One letter, signed by Tania Chacon, read:

“Beloved Dianne Feinstein, Thank you for all of your dedication to this country and years of service to San Francisco. As a little girl, I met you and you inspired me to grow to be a strong woman in my community. You paved the way for us as women leaders. You will always be remembered as such for myself, and my family of native San Franciscans. May you rest in peace.”

Service was a thread in many of the remembrances of Feinstein. Another mourner, 26-year-old Joe Begovich told KQED he admired Feinstein because she “spent her life in service to others.”

She gave that service “all the way until her last day,” he said. 

When Dianne Feinstein stood against CIA torture

One notable aspect of Dianne Feinstein’s legacy is her service as chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee and its investigation into the Central Intelligence Agency’s interrogation program following the 9/11 attacks. 

The committee found that the C.I.A.’s so-called “enhanced interrogation techniques” used torture, including tactics like waterboarding and extreme sleep deprivation. In December 2014, Feinstein made the core of the study public.  

“It shows that the C.I.A.’s actions a decade ago are a stain on our values and on our history,” Feinstein said from the Senate floor. “The release of this 500-page summary of our report cannot remove that stain, but it can and does say to our people, and the world, that America is big enough to admit when it’s wrong and confident enough to learn from its mistakes.”

A person stands in the middle of a group of people holding their phones up to their face looking unhappy.
Senate Intelligence Committee Chairwoman Dianne Feinstein speaks to reporters about the committee’s report on CIA interrogations at the US Capitol on Dec. 9, 2014. (Saul Loeb/AFP via Getty Images)

The report wasn’t just about the actions of the C.I.A., Feinstein said on the Senate floor, but core to the values and morals of the United States, which she said shouldn’t waver, whether in peacetime or at war.

Former U.S. congresswoman Jackie Speier told KQED on Friday that Feinstein showed strong leadership by releasing the report.

“That was scathing of the C.I.A., our military of both democratic and republican administrations, but she did what was right, and she used her personal moral compass, so it took great courage on her part,” Speier said. 

Dianne Feinstein painted a gift for Barbara Lee after Lee's lone 'no' vote on war in Afghanistan

After Sen. Dianne Feinstein’s death late Thursday, many have wondered about the political future of East Bay Congresswoman Barbara Lee, who is running for Feinstein’s seat.

But speaking to KQED on Friday morning, Lee said the political discussions should come another day. Today, she mourns the loss of a friend.

“She was always compassionate, she was always an adviser,” Lee said. 

That goes all the way back to 2001, when Lee cast the sole dissenting vote against granting military force for the war in Afghanistan following the 9/11 attacks. Lee’s lone nay vote stood against a backdrop of lawmakers clamoring for war. 

Amid that turmoil, Feinstein reached out to Lee, and gifted her a painting – one she painted herself, and signed, in the bottom right-hand corner.

A drawing of orchids in a pot.
A drawing of orchids painted by Sen. Dianne Feinstein and gifted to Congresswoman Barbara Lee after Lee cast the sole dissenting vote against granting military force for the war in Afghanistan following 9/11. (Courtesy Barbara Lee)

“I don’t know if a lot of people know this, but she was a painter and an artist,” Lee said. “She knew I loved orchids. And she painted this beautiful orchid for me and dated it, and signed it for me, and gave it to me as a tribute to what I was going through.”

That painting meant a lot to Lee at a time when she took fire from all political quarters.

Lee said she took it as a sign that Feinstein meant, ‘Look here, I want you to have this because I know what you’re going through.’

“And I’ll always cherish that picture she painted just for me during those very difficult days,” Lee said.

That painting hangs in Lee’s Washington D.C. home to this day. 

'We were known as Thelma and Louise': Barbara Boxer on her 24-year Senate stint with Feinstein

In 1992, Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer ran alongside each other for California’s two open Senate seats — in a state that had never elected a woman to that chamber. And they both won.

“When we got elected in 1992, they called it ‘the Year of the Woman,’” Boxer told KQED Forum host Mina Kim on Friday, shortly after Feinstein’s death had been announced. “Well, that was an exaggeration. We went from two women in the Senate to six.” 

It marked the first time in U.S. history that two women had ever been elected to the Senate at the same time, from the same state, Boxer noted.

During that campaign, “she was way more popular and way more known,” Boxer said of Feinstein, who had garnered widespread recognition as mayor of San Francisco after the assassination of Mayor George Moscone and Supervisor Harvey Milk, and during her unsuccessful run for governor in 1990. “And I was literally very unknown, like I was an asterisk in the polls, seriously, because I just represented congressional districts in the Bay Area.”

“So it could have easily been that she just said ‘Barbara, I love you, but you’re on your own,’” Boxer recalled. “But she didn’t do that. She grabbed my hand. She took a chance, we ran as a team and we were known as Thelma and Louise.”

The two Democrats went on to serve together in the Senate for 24 years.

“It’s a very tough day,” Boxer said, of losing her longtime friend and colleague. “She’s had a hard year, very hard on so many levels. So I want her to rest in peace. And I think she would be so pleased at the wonderful tributes that are being paid to her today.” 

Here's why you're likely to vote 4 times on Feinstein's replacement

Senator Dianne Feinstein’s death late Thursday comes as the campaign to replace her is already underway – and puts Gov. Gavin Newsom in the hot seat as he weighs who to pick as her replacement. 

But whomever Newsom chooses, they probably won’t be in Washington, D.C. for too long. Voters will be asked next November to choose someone to finish out the final months of Feinstein’s term. Read more on what Feinstein’s death means for control of the Senate and the looming government shutdown.

On the same ballot, California voters will also pick a candidate to fill the seat for the full term that begins January 3, 2025. Feinstein announced in February that she wouldn’t run for reelection in 2024, setting off a race for that seat.  

Newsom has promised to appoint a Black woman to the seat left vacant by Feinstein’s death. He has not indicated who he will choose. But earlier this month he made clear that he will not name Oakland Congresswoman Barbara Lee, who is running along with Orange County Representative Katie Porter and Los Angeles Congressman Adam Schiff.

That means Newsom’s appointee would promise to serve as a caretaker – and would likely step down after the November 2024 election.

So, California voters will likely vote four times over the next year on Feinstein’s Senate seat: Twice in the March primary, and twice in November. The special and regular Senate elections will appear next to each other on the ballot. 

The winner of the special election will serve for less than a month: from when the election is certified in December 2024 until the new Senate term begins in January 2025. The winner of the regular Senate election will serve a six-year term beginning in January 2025.

What Willie Brown will remember most about Dianne Feinstein

Former San Francisco mayor and political icon Willie Brown shared his condolences and fond memories Friday morning of the late Sen. Dianne Feinstein, who was the city’s first woman mayor, serving from 1978 to 1988. 

“She had been one of the first persons to assist my efforts to try to change the attitude of San Francisco about housing for people of color,” Brown, who was mayor of San Francisco from 1996 to 2004, told KQED’s Mina Kim on Forum.

“She showed up for the first demonstration in the city, probably 1961, where she was pushing a stroller with her daughter. And that’s how I met her. She was participating in a protest to try to get me a house in the city.”

As mayor, Feinstein converted many of San Francisco’s low-cost, single-room occupancy hotels into tourist hotels as well as temporary shelter for people experiencing homelessness. The conversions, however, received pushback by some residents advocating for permanent housing solutions.

News of Feinstein’s death shocked Brown on Friday, he said, given the late senator had cast a vote the same day she died.

“I had been aware that she was there in D.C. doing the work she was supposed to do. Actually, she cast a vote yesterday in the Senate in Washington, D.C. … That’s amazing.”

'She held the city together': Crisis and perseverance during Feinstein's early career 

U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein’s long political career was studded with traumatic moments of chaos and uncertainty, but also grit to persevere through those difficult times, colleagues of the late senator recalled on Friday following news of her death. 

Feinstein stepped into her historic role as the first woman mayor of San Francisco after then-mayor George Moscone and Supervisor Harvey Milk were both assassinated in November 1978. That same month, 918 people involved in the San Francisco-based cult The Peoples Temple died at a remote settlement called Jonestown. The founder of that group, Jim Jones, had also served on the San Francisco Housing Authority Commission.

“Just knowing what she did through the Harvey Milk tragedy and the Jonestown tragedy and how close they were together in San Francisco, just two weeks apart,” said Debbie Mesloh, who worked as a field representative for Feinstein in the late 1990s and early 2000s. “She really just held the city together and the strength she had is something that’s always struck me over the years.”

Flowers left in front of Dianne Feinstein's house in San Francisco on Sept. 29, 2023.
Flowers left in front of Dianne Feinstein’s house in San Francisco on Sept. 29, 2023. (Beth LaBerge/KQED)

Feinstein didn’t shy away from difficult times throughout her career, Mesloh and other colleagues told KQED’s Brian Watt. 

“I remember hearing the stories when she first started taking on guns and trying to do responsible gun control, and just the epic battles she fought,” Mesloh said. “She had some scares, kidnapping threats and other things at her home in San Francisco. She just always stood firm.”

Jackie Speier remembers political mentor Dianne Feinstein

Former Peninsula and San Francisco Congresswoman Jackie Speier paid tribute to her friend and colleague U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein on Friday morning, following news of the late senator’s death Thursday night. 

“My heart sank,” Speier told KQED’s Brian Watt. “She was someone who was willing to break the rules to get what she believed was right for the American people. I had many bills that I worked with her on, and she never, never shrunk from a battle.” 

Feinstein will be remembered as the first woman to be elected president of San Francisco’s Board of Supervisors, the first woman to be elected mayor and the first woman to be elected U.S. senator from California. Feinstein was also the first woman to serve as chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee and the first woman to serve as chair of the Senate’s Intelligence Committee.

“It’s a remarkable record that we should all applaud for, her willingness to go where others have never gone before,” Speier said. 

When asked about Feinstein’s legacy, Speier said: “She put California first, whether it was protecting Lake Tahoe or setting aside hundreds of thousands of acres for the desert national parks, or protecting the cable cars. We almost lost the cable cars without her! She put California first. And she was a feminist before we coined the term feminism.”