Sen. Dianne Feinstein announces she won’t run for reelection


It’s the end of an era and the start of what’s sure to be one of California’s most important and dramatic political contests in this election cycle.

After three decades as a United States senator, Sen. Dianne Feinstein — who shattered glass ceilings as San Francisco’s first female mayor and then as the longest-serving female senator in U.S. history — on Tuesday confirmed months of rumor and speculation and declared that she won’t seek reelection in 2024.

The announcement caps a trailblazing half-century career in Democratic politics during which Feinstein, 89 and currently the oldest senator, spearheaded a national assault weapon ban, helped create the AMBER Alert system and served as the top Democrat on the Senate Judiciary Committee — the first woman to hold that role. In what has become an increasingly rare approach to politics on Capitol Hill, she prided herself on working across the aisle, crafting legislation with the late Sen. John McCain, among other Republicans.

Even though experts expected Feinstein, facing reports of cognitive decline, to sit out the next election cycle, her official announcement is sure to pump new urgency into the campaigns to replace her — and to bring contenders out of the woodwork. Her Senate seat is almost guaranteed to go to someone more progressive, ushering in not only a new generation but also a new style of Democratic leadership in the state.

“It is an important announcement,” David McCuan, a political science professor at Sonoma State University, said of Feinstein’s impending retirement. “It is one where we reflect on her legacy, and it is one that opens up a whole lot of questions for what comes next for Democrats in California.”

Big-name politicians from San Francisco Mayor London Breed and Gov. Gavin Newsom to President Joe Biden and even those running to replace Feinstein took time Tuesday to honor the senator and remember her historic legacy.

So far, U.S. Reps. Adam Schiff and Katie Porter have announced that they are running to fill her seat. Rep. Barbara Lee, from Oakland, intends to launch her campaign this month.

“While I hope we will keep the focus in these coming days on celebrating the senator and her historic tenure in the Senate, I know there are questions about the Senate race in 2024, which I will address soon,” Lee said in a statement.

Feinstein said Tuesday that she intends to accomplish as much as she can until the end of her term — including passing legislation to fight gun violence, preserve nature and promote economic growth.

“Even with a divided Congress, we can still pass bills that will improve lives,” she said in a statement. “Each of us was sent here to solve problems. That’s what I’ve done for the last 30 years, and that’s what I plan to do for the next two years. My thanks to the people of California for allowing me to serve them.”

Some experts speculate it may be difficult for Feinstein to get things done now — if rumors of her impending retirement hadn’t already made her a “lame duck,” Tuesday’s announcement certainly has. But the Democrats’ majority in the Senate is so slim, people can’t afford to ignore her, said Darry Sragow, a Democratic strategist who advised Feinstein during her campaign for governor in 1990.

“Her vote will still matter, and her voice will still matter,” he said. “I think she’ll be relevant for the remainder of her term. And my guess is she’s going to devote herself to getting some big things done.”

Gun legislation is a likely area where Feinstein can shine, especially after another mass shooting this week left three people dead and five wounded in Michigan. She wrote the national assault weapons ban in 1994 that prohibited certain militaristic semiautomatic guns — a feat remembered as one of her most notable accomplishments, though it expired in 2004. In 1978, Feinstein became the first woman to lead San Francisco after Supervisor Dan White fatally shot Mayor George Moscone and Supervisor Harvey Milk.

But despite her storied reputation, questions about the senator’s mental acuity were further amplified Tuesday after multiple journalists reported that Feinstein didn’t seem to know that her coming retirement had been made public.

A spokesperson from Feinstein’s office said the senator approved the release of the announcement Tuesday, but there was confusion on the timing. Feinstein was out of the office for votes, a meeting and lunch when the announcement was sent out, he said.

Making the announcement was the right move — it will be good for California to finally start looking for our next senator, said Melissa Michelson, a political science professor at Menlo College.

“California voters appreciate all the things Dianne Feinstein has done for her constituents over the years,” she said, “but I think we all knew it was time for her to go.”

Now that the cat’s out of the bag about Feinstein’s retirement, experts say Schiff and Porter are sure to ramp their Senate campaigns into overdrive, racking up donations and endorsements left and right. And anyone else who had been thinking of entering the race but delayed out of respect for Feinstein had better jump in soon if they want a chance at winning over voters, said Thad Kousser, a political science professor at UC San Diego.

Schiff, a Southern California Democrat who recently scored endorsements from former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and 40% of the state’s Democratic delegation, is the most center-leaning of all the candidates so far to replace Feinstein, Kousser said. Therefore, Schiff might be able to snap up those voters who align with Feinstein’s moderate views.

But Schiff, Porter and Lee all skew decidedly to the left of Feinstein, meaning California will get a “very different type” of senator next term, McCuan said. In deep blue California, no Republican is given a chance at the seat.


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