Born in San Francisco, Feinstein graduated from Stanford University in 1955 with a B.A. in history. In the 1960s she worked in city government, and in 1970 she was elected to the San Francisco Board of Supervisors. She served as the board's first female president in 1978, during which time the assassinations of Mayor George Moscone and City Supervisor Harvey Milk drew national attention to the city. Feinstein succeeded Moscone as mayor. During her tenure as San Francisco's first female mayor she led renovation of the city's cable car system and oversaw the 1984 Democratic National Convention.
After a failed gubernatorial campaign in 1990, she won a 1992 special election to the U.S. Senate. Feinstein was first elected on the same ballot as her peer Barbara Boxer, and the two became California's first female U.S. Senators. Feinstein has been re-elected four times since then and in the 2012 election, she claimed the record for the most popular votes in any U.S. Senate election in history, having received 7.75 million votes.
Feinstein was the author of the 1994 Federal Assault Weapons Ban which expired in 2004. In 2013 she introduced a new assault weapons bill, which failed to pass. Feinstein is the first and only woman to have chaired the Senate Rules Committee (2007–09) and the Select Committee on Intelligence from 2009 to 2015, when the Democrats lost control of the Senate. She is the only woman to have presided over a U.S. presidential inauguration. At the age of 84, Feinstein is the oldest currently serving United States Senator. With the retirement of Barbara Mikulski, Feinstein is the longest current serving female senator.
Feinstein was born Dianne Emiel Goldman in San Francisco, to Betty (née Rosenburg), a former model, and Leon Goldman, a surgeon. Feinstein's paternal grandparents were Jewish immigrants from Poland. Her maternal grandparents, the Rosenburg family, were from Saint Petersburg, Russia. While they were of German-Jewish ancestry, they practiced the Russian Orthodox faith as was required for Jews residing in Saint Petersburg.
Feinstein graduated from Convent of the Sacred Heart High School, San Francisco in 1951 and from Stanford University in 1955 with a Bachelor of Arts in History.
Prior to elected service, Feinstein was appointed by then-California Governor Pat Brown to serve as a member of the California Women's Parole Board. Feinstein also served as a fellow at the Coro Foundation in San Francisco.
In 1969, Feinstein was elected to the San Francisco Board of Supervisors. She remained on the Board for nine years.
During her tenure on the Board of Supervisors, she unsuccessfully ran for mayor of San Francisco twice, in 1971 against mayor Joseph Alioto, and in 1975, when she lost the contest for a runoff slot (against George Moscone) by one percentage point, to supervisor John Barbagelata.
Because of her position, Feinstein became a target of the New World Liberation Front, which placed a bomb on her window sill that failed to explode and which later shot out the windows of a beach house she owned.
She was elected president of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors in 1978 with initial opposition from Quentin Kopp.
On November 27, 1978, Moscone and supervisor Harvey Milk were assassinated by a rival politician, Dan White, who had resigned from the Board of Supervisors two weeks earlier. Feinstein was in City Hall at the time of the shootings and discovered Milk's body after hearing the shots. Later that day Feinstein announced the assassinations to the public.
As President of the Board of Supervisors upon the death of Moscone, Feinstein succeeded to the mayoralty on December 4, 1978.
Feinstein served out the remainder of Moscone's term and was elected in her own right in 1979. She was re-elected in 1983 and served a full second term.
One of Feinstein's first challenges as mayor was the state of the San Francisco cable car system, which had been shut down for emergency repairs in 1979; an engineering study concluded that it needed comprehensive rebuilding at a cost of $60 million. Feinstein helped win federal funding for the bulk of the work. The system closed for rebuilding in 1982 and in time for the Democratic National Convention. Feinstein also oversaw planning policies to increase the number of high rise buildings in San Francisco.
Feinstein was seen as a relatively moderate Democrat in one of the country's most liberal cities. As a supervisor, she was considered part of the centrist bloc that included Dan White and was generally opposed to Moscone. As mayor, Feinstein angered the city's large gay community by refusing to march in a gay rights parade and by vetoing domestic partner legislation in 1982. In the 1980 presidential election, while a majority of Bay Area Democrats continued to support Senator Ted Kennedy's primary challenge to President Jimmy Carter even after it was clear Kennedy could not win, Feinstein was a strong supporter of the Carter–Mondale ticket. She was given a high-profile speaking role on the opening night of the August Democratic National Convention, urging delegates to reject the Kennedy delegates' proposal to "open" the convention, thereby allowing delegates to ignore their states' popular vote, a proposal that was soundly defeated.
In the run up to the 1984 Democratic National Convention, there was considerable media and public speculation that Mondale might pick Feinstein as his running mate. However, he chose Geraldine Ferraro instead. Also in 1984, Feinstein proposed banning handguns in San Francisco, and became subject to a recall attempt organized by the White Panther Party. She won the recall election and finished her second term as mayor on January 8, 1988.
In 1985, at a press conference, Feinstein revealed details about the hunt for serial killer Richard Ramírez, and in so doing angered detectives by giving away details of his crimes.
In 1987, City and State magazine named Feinstein the nation's "Most Effective Mayor." Feinstein served on the Trilateral Commission during the 1980s while mayor of San Francisco.
In 1990, Feinstein made an unsuccessful bid for Governor of California. Although she won the Democratic Party's nomination for the office, she lost in the general election to Republican Senator Pete Wilson, who vacated his seat in the Senate to assume the governorship. In 1992, she was fined $190,000 for failure to properly report campaign contributions and expenditures associated with that campaign.
On November 3, 1992, Feinstein won a special election to fill the Senate seat vacated a year earlier when Senator Pete Wilson resigned to become governor. The election was held at the same time as the general election for U.S. President and other offices. Barbara Boxer was elected at the same time for the Senate seat to be vacated by Alan Cranston. Because Feinstein was elected to an unexpired term, she became a senator as soon as the election was certified in November while Boxer would not take office until the expiration of Cranston's term in January; thus Feinstein became California's senior senator, even though she was elected at the same time as Boxer and Boxer had previous congressional service. Feinstein was re-elected in 1994, 2000, 2006, and 2012. In 2012, Feinstein claimed the record for the most popular votes in any U.S. Senate election in history, having received 7.75 million votes. The record was previously held by her California colleague Barbara Boxer, who received 6.96 million votes in her 2004 re-election.Committee on Appropriations
Subcommittee on Agriculture, Rural Development, Food and Drug Administration, and Related Agencies
Subcommittee on Commerce, Justice, Science, and Related Agencies
Subcommittee on Defense
Subcommittee on Energy and Water Development (Ranking Member)
Subcommittee on Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies
Subcommittee on Transportation, Housing and Urban Development, and Related Agencies
Committee on the Judiciary (Ranking Member, 115th Congress)Subcommittee on Crime and Terrorism
Subcommittee on Immigration, Border Security, and Refugees
Subcommittee on Privacy, Technology and the Law
Committee on Rules and Administration
Select Committee on Intelligence
In 2012, Feinstein voted for the extension of the Patriot Act and the FISA provisions.
Feinstein has supported the Affordable Care Act, repeatedly voting to defeat initiatives aimed against it.
She has voted for regulating tobacco as a drug; expanding the Children's Health Insurance Program; overriding the president's veto on adding 2 to 4 million children to SCHIP eligibility; increasing Medicaid rebate for producing generic drugs; negotiating bulk purchases for Medicare prescription drugs; allowing re-importation of Rx drugs from Canada; allowing patients to sue HMOs & collect punitive damages; including prescription drugs under Medicare; Medicare means-testing; etc. She has voted against the Paul Ryan Budget's Medicare choice, tax & spending cuts; allowing tribal Indians to opt out of federal healthcare; etc. Feinstein's Congress voting record was assessed as "88%" by the American Public Health Association (APHA), the figure ostensibly reflecting the percentage of time the representative voted the organization's preferred position.
In an April 2017 town hall meeting in San Francisco, Feinstein stated that
If single-payer health care is going to mean the complete takeover by the government of all health care, I am not there.
Feinstein co-sponsored (along with Tom Coburn, an Oklahoman Republican) an amendment through the Senate to the Economic Development Revitalization Act of 2011 that eliminated the Volumetric Ethanol Excise Tax Credit. The Senate passed the amendment on June 16, 2011. Introduced in 2004, the subsidy provided a 45-cent-per-gallon credit on pure ethanol, and a 54-cent-per-gallon tariff on imported ethanol. These subsidies had resulted in an annual expenditure of $6 billion.
After President Obama nominated Merrick Garland for the Supreme Court in March 2016, Feinstein met with Garland on April 6, and subsequently called on Republicans to do "this institution the credit of sitting down, and meeting with him".
In February 2017, Feinstein requested Supreme Court nominee Neil Gorsuch provide information on cases in which he had assisted with decision making regarding either litigation or craft strategy. In mid-March, Feinstein sent a letter to Gorsuch stating her request had not been followed up on. Feinstein formally annoucned her opposition to his nomination on April 3, citing Gorsuch's "record at the Department of Justice, his tenure on the bench, his appearance before the Senate and his written questions for the record".
In September 2016, Feinstein backed the Obama administration's plan to sell more than $1.15 billion worth of weapons to Saudi Arabia.
On May 12, 2011, Feinstein co-sponsored PIPA. In January 2012, Feinstein met with representatives of technology companies, including Google and Facebook. According to a spokesperson, Feinstein "is doing all she can to ensure that the bill is balanced and protects the intellectual property concerns of the content community without unfairly burdening legitimate businesses such as Internet search engines".
Following her 2012 vote to extend the Patriot Act and the FISA provisions, and after the 2013 mass surveillance disclosures involving the National Security Agency (NSA), Feinstein promoted and supported measures to continue the information collection programs. Foreign Policy wrote that she had a "reputation as a staunch defender of NSA practices and [of] the White House's refusal to stand by collection activities targeting foreign leaders".
In October 2013, she criticized the NSA for monitoring telephone calls of foreign leaders friendly to the US. In November 2013, she promoted the FISA Improvements Act bill which included a "backdoor search provision" that allows intelligence agencies to continue certain warrantless searches as long as they are logged and "available for review" to various agencies.
In June 2013, Feinstein labeled Edward Snowden a "traitor" after his leaks went public. In October of the same year, she stated that she stood by those comments.
While praising the NSA, Feinstein had accused the CIA of snooping and removing files through Congress members' computers, stating, "The CIA did not ask the committee or its staff if the committee had access to the internal review or how we obtained it. Instead, the CIA just went and searched the committee's computer." She claimed the "CIA's search may well have violated the separation of powers principles embodied in the United States Constitution."
After the 2016 FBI–Apple encryption dispute, Feinstein, along with Richard Burr, sponsored a bill that would be likely to criminalize all forms of strong encryption in electronic communication between citizens. The bill would require technology companies to design their encryption so that they can provide law enforcement with user data in an "intelligible format" when required to do so by court order.
Feinstein introduced the Federal Assault Weapons Ban, which became law in 1994 and expired in 2004. In January 2013, about one month after the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting, Feinstein, along with Representative Carolyn McCarthy from New York, proposed a bill that would "ban the sale, transfer, manufacturing or importation of 150 specific firearms including semiautomatic rifles or pistols that can be used with a detachable or fixed ammunition magazines that hold more than 10 rounds and have specific military-style features, including pistol grips, grenade launchers or rocket launchers". The bill would have exempted 900 models of guns used for sport and hunting. Feinstein commented on the bill, saying, "The common thread in each of these shootings is the gunman used a semi-automatic assault weapon or large capacity ammunition magazines. Military assault weapons only have one purpose and in my opinion, it's for the military." The bill failed on a Senate vote of 60 to 40.
Feinstein voted in support of legislation to override a Department of Veterans Affairs' prohibition on allowing doctors to recommend cannabis to veterans in states that sanction its use as a medicine. The legislation was approved by the Senate Appropriations Committee on May 21, 2015. However, she was the only Democrat who joined a minority of Republicans in voting against a measure designed to prevent federal interference with states' medical marijuana laws. However, that legislation passed with a 21-9 vote on June 18, 2015.
Feinstein was criticized in 2009 when she introduced a bill directing $25 billion to the FDIC the day after the agency awarded her husband's company a contract to sell foreclosed properties at compensation rates higher than the industry norms. Feinstein and her husband have been tied to questionable dealings between the world's largest commercial real estate firm and the U.S. Postal Service. Feinstein has also been accused of abusing her position to award her husband’s companies billions of dollars in military contracts.
As a superdelegate, Feinstein had declared that she would support Hillary Clinton for the Democratic presidential nomination. However, once Barack Obama became the presumptive nominee for the party, she fully backed his candidacy. Days after Obama amassed enough delegates to win the Democratic Party nomination, Feinstein lent her Washington, D. C., home to both Clinton and Obama to have a private one-on-one meeting. Feinstein did not attend the 2008 Democratic National Convention in Denver because she had fallen and broken her ankle earlier in the month.
She chaired the United States Congress Joint Committee on Inaugural Ceremonies, and acted as mistress of ceremonies, introducing each participant at the 2009 presidential inauguration.
Heading into the 2016 Presidential Election, Senator Feinstein was one of sixteen Democratic female senators to sign a letter, on October 20, 2013, endorsing Hillary Clinton to be the Democratic nominee.
Speaking on the Senate floor on December 9, 2014, Feinstein called the government's detention and interrogation program a "stain on our values and on our history", following the release of 600 pages declassified out of a 6000-page report about CIA methods.
On 4 June 1977 Dianne Feinstein was awarded the Honorary degree of Doctor of Laws from Golden Gate University in San Francisco. She was awarded the Legion of Honour by France in 1984. Feinstein was presented with the Woodrow Wilson Award for public service by the Woodrow Wilson Center of the Smithsonian Institution on November 3, 2001, in Los Angeles.
In 2002 Feinstein won the American Medical Association's Nathan Davis Award for "the Betterment of the Public Health."
In 2015 she was named as one of The Forward 50.
In 1956, she married Jack Berman (d. 2002), a colleague in the San Francisco District Attorney's Office. Feinstein and Berman divorced three years later. Their daughter, Katherine Feinstein Mariano (b. 1957), has been the presiding judge of the San Francisco Superior Court for twelve years, through 2012.
In 1962, shortly after beginning her career in politics, Feinstein married her second husband, neurosurgeon Bertram Feinstein, who died of colon cancer in 1978.
In 1980, Feinstein married Richard C. Blum, an investment banker. In 2003, Feinstein was ranked the fifth-wealthiest senator, with an estimated net worth of US$26 million. By 2005 her net worth had increased to between US$43 million and US$99 million. Her 347-page financial-disclosure statement – characterized by the San Francisco Chronicle as "nearly the size of a phone book" – draws clear lines between her assets and those of her husband, with many of her assets in blind trusts.
In January 2017, Feinstein had an artificial cardiac pacemaker inserted at George Washington University Hospital.