Looking back on U.S. Sen. Feinstein’s liberal legacy

SAN FRANCISCO (KRON) — U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California fiercely fought for liberal causes for more than three decades in the Senate.

California Governor Gavin Newsom said, “There is simply nobody who possessed the strength, gravitas, and fierceness of Dianne Feinstein.”

Former President Barack Obama wrote, “Feinstein will be rightly remembered as a trailblazer — the first woman to serve as mayor of San Francisco and the first woman elected to the Senate from California. But once she broke those barriers and walked through those doors, she got to work.”

The San Francisco native passed away Thursday night at her home in Washington, D.C., Feinstein’s chief of staff, James Sauls, confirmed. She cast her last vote in the Senate earlier in the day.

Here is a look back on five issues Feinstein was passionate about during her legacy as a leader in America:

1. Protecting the Environment

Feinstein helped paved the way for passing global warming legislation, and improved California’s efforts to combat wildfire and drought. She was a champion for preserving California’s pristine lands, including Lake Tahoe and the Mojave Desert.

Feinstein was the author of the West Coast Ocean Protection Act, which would permanently ban offshore oil and gas drilling off the coasts of California, Oregon and Washington. 

When Feinstein announced earlier this year that she would not seek re-election, environmental issues remained as one of her top priorities. In February she wrote, “I campaigned in 2018 on several priorities for California and the nation: preventing and combating wildfires, mitigating the effects of record-setting drought, responding to the homelessness crisis, and ensuring all Americans have access to affordable, high-quality health care. Congress has enacted legislation on all of these topics over the past several years, but more needs to be done – and I will continue these efforts.”

In 2019, Feinstein successfully led an effort committing all major automakers to sign an agreement with California to voluntarily commit to stronger fuel economy standards than the federal level. She threw her support behind Newsom’s 2020 executive order requiring all new vehicles sold in California to be zero-emission by 2035.

In 2016, Feinstein secured passage of bipartisan legislation to respond to California’s five-year drought and modernize the state’s water system. 

2. Gun Safety

Feinstein’s career was shaped early on by gun violence in San Francisco. In 1978 she was San Francisco Board of Supervisors president when fellow Supervisor Harvey Milk and Mayor George Moscone were gunned down at City Hall. Feinstein found Milk’s body. In the years the followed, she pushed hard for stricter gun control measures.

The Senate approved her amendment to ban manufacturing and sales of certain types of assault weapons as part of a crime bill that President Bill Clinton signed into law in 1994. The assault weapons ban expired 10 years later.

Feinstein in 2023 said she was focused on passing commonsense legislation to thwart easy access to guns, particularly assault weapons. Following a mass shooting in Half Moon Bay in January, she asked, “When will this madness end? I refuse to let this become the new normal. From universal background checks to banning dangerous assault weapons and high-capacity magazines, Democrats have put forward reasonable, commonsense proposals that Americans broadly support. Until Congress takes real action, gun violence will continue to rise and these headlines will become more and more common, and more and more people will die.”

3. National Security

Feinstein was appointed to the Senate Intelligence Committee. She was the first woman to lead the intelligence panel, a high-profile perch that gave her a central oversight role over U.S. intelligence controversies, setbacks and triumphs, from the killing of Osama bin Laden to leaks about National Security Agency surveillance.

Under Feinstein’s leadership, the intelligence committee conducted a wide-ranging investigation into CIA interrogation techniques during President George W. Bush’s administration, including waterboarding of terrorism suspects at secret overseas prisons. The resulting 6,300-page “Torture Report” concluded among other things that waterboarding and other “enhanced interrogation techniques” did not provide key evidence in the hunt for bin Laden.

Feinstein said, “This must be a lesson learned: that torture doesn’t work.”

U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein during a news conference on Medicare on January 22, 2007 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Alex Wong /Getty Images)

4. Healthcare

The Senator was a vocal advocate for affordable, quality health coverage. Feinstein supported and helped pass the Affordable Care Act in the Senate and voted for its passage in 2009.

5. Immigration

Senator Feinstein was a strong supporter of The Dream Act to provide a path to legal status for undocumented persons who were younger than 18 years when they first arrived in the United States. She was also a staunch advocate for the creation of a farmworker protection program.

In February of 2022, Feinstein cosigned a letter urging President Biden to reverse inhumane immigration policies, such as Title 42, originally introduced under the Trump administration.

The senator’s staff regularly visited the California/Mexico border to inspect conditions at Border Patrol, Immigration and Customs Enforcement and Office of Refugee Resettlement facilities. “These visits are important to ensure that conditions in immigration facilities uphold the humanitarian standards U.S. law requires and that immigration cases are heard quickly and efficiently,” her office wrote.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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