With two candidates already declared to be seeking her job, long-serving California Sen. Dianne Feinstein announced Tuesday she will quit her post at the end of her current term, in 2024.
"The time has come," Feinstein told reporters on Capitol Hill. "It's not till the end of next year. So don't hold your breath. And you know, there are times for all things under the sun, and I think that will be the right time."
Feinstein, the longest-serving woman senator ever, was elected in 1992, and will leave a formidable legacy, as the Los Angeles Times summed it up, noting her "roles in enacting the nation’s only assault weapons ban, releasing documentation of the CIA’s use of torture despite strong pushback from the intelligence community, and blazing a trail for female senators. During her first Senate campaign in 1992, there were only two female senators. Today there are 25."
In recent years, though, the 89-year-old Feinstein had begun to show some age, looking frail as she walked the halls, often with an aide on hand. She also had become more reticent with reporters she encountered, and was less nimble answering questions,
Generally regarded as one of the most acute and perceptive lawmakers in the past, she infamously appeared tone deaf in 2019 when she berated children associated with the Sunrise Movement when they confronted her in her California office. More recently, reports began surfacing that her memory was declining rapidly.
Normally, the longest-serving senator occupies the position of President Pro Tempore of the Senate, which is third in line of the presidential succession. Democrats skipped over Feinstein earlier this year to select Washington Sen. Patty Murray as the first woman to ever hold that the post.
Colleagues preferred to focus on her impressive record over her long service, and on their regard for the well-liked colleague.
“Sen. Feinstein broke innumerable glass ceilings and her work has impacted the lives of millions of Americans – and especially Californians – forever. Dianne Feinstein was, and will remain, a California and an American institution," Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said in a statement.
He also told reporters that Feinstein broke the news to her colleagues in an emotional announcement during their weekly lunch meeting in the Capitol. "She gave a very heartwarming and teary address, because she talked about her husband and how she so regretted his loss," Schumer said, referring to Feinstein's spouse. Richard Blum, who died last year.
"She got a standing ovation that lasted minutes and minutes and minutes, one of the longest I've ever seen, which shows the love that our caucus and our country have for this wonderful, wonderful leader and legend, Dianne Feinstein," Schumer said.
Feinstein had said she was planning to announce her intentions later, in the spring, but the situation was growing increasingly awkward with prominent California Democrats who want to succeed her announcing election campaigns. Rep. Katie Porter was the first out of the box, and Rep. Adam Schiff soon followed. Many others are expected to follow suit. Rep. Barbara Lee is expected to join the fray imminently.
Schiff and Porter were both quick to praise Feinstein's career.
“Dianne Feinstein is one of the finest legislators our state and country have ever known, and her retirement in two years will be felt throughout Congress, California, and the nation," Schiff said. "As the longest-serving woman senator, Sen. Feinstein is trailblazer, and her accomplishments are immense and far from over."
"Dianne Feinstein has had a remarkable career serving the people of California," Porter said. "She created a path for women in politics that I am proud to follow. I thank the Senator for her leadership and appreciate all that she has accomplished for our state."
Feinstein is still well-loved in California Democratic circles, and her endorsement would likely be a boon for anyone seeking to win of rank-and-file Dems. Feinstein, however, declined to offer an instant endorsement when asked by reporters, saying it would be a "couple months" before she addresses who she'd like to follow her.