Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D)
Elected: Nov. 1992, term expires 2012, 3rd full term.
Born: June 22, 1933, San Francisco .
Home: San Francisco.
Education: Stanford U., B.A. 1955.
Family: Married (Richard C. Blum); 4 children.
Elected office: San Francisco Bd. of Supervisors, 1970–78, Pres., 1970–71, 1974–75, 1978; San Francisco mayor, 1978–88.
Professional Career: CA Women's Parole Bd., 1960–66.
Dianne Feinstein, California’s senior senator, is a Democrat first elected in 1992. Feinstein (FINE-stine) grew up in San Francisco in lush Presidio Heights, the daughter of a doctor who hoped she would follow him into the profession. In her first semester at Stanford University, Feinstein got a D in genetics and decided she did not have the aptitude for medicine. But she did love a class she took on American political thought. She graduated with a degree in criminology and then, while doing an internship, wrote a paper about post-conviction phases of the justice system that she thought contained valuable ideas for the state of California. Feinstein sent her paper to Gov. Pat Brown. Despite her youth—she was just 27—the governor appointed her to the California Women’s Board of Terms and Parole. A few years later, in 1969, she won her first election, to the San Francisco County Board of Supervisors. Feinstein went on to become president of the board and in 1978, was suddenly catapulted to mayor when Mayor George Moscone and Supervisor Harvey Milk were shot to death by former Supervisor Dan White. Feinstein discovered Moscone’s body and in the subsequent weeks, displayed a steadiness and a sense of command that calmed the city. She was elected to full terms in 1979 and 1983. In 1984, Democratic presidential candidate Walter Mondale seriously considered her for vice president, but passed over her for Geraldine Ferraro because of qualms about the business dealings of Feinstein’s husband, Richard Blum. She presided gracefully that year over the Democratic National Convention in San Francisco, while ironically, Ferraro juggled questions about her family’s business dealings.
|Dianne Feinstein (D)||5,076,289||(59%)||($8,030,489)|
|Dick Mountjoy (R)||2,990,822||(35%)||($195,265)|
|Dianne Feinstein (D)||2,176,829||(87%)|
|Colleen Fernald (D)||199,170||(8%)|
|Martin Luther Church (D)||127,291||(5%)|
Prior Winning Percentages: 2000 (56%), 1994 (47%), 1992 (54%)
Ineligible for a third full term, Feinstein left the mayor’s office in 1987 and ran for governor in 1990. She won the Democratic primary impressively, then lost 49%-46% to Republican Pete Wilson. When Wilson appointed Orange County state Sen. John Seymour—an unknown and bland choice—to replace him in the Senate, Feinstein quickly announced for the seat. She had primary competition from Gray Davis, then state controller, who ran an ad against her campaign finance practices and compared her to haughty New York billionaire Leona Helmsley, who went to jail for tax evasion. Feinstein won 58%-33%, and after that, her relations with Davis, elected governor in 1998 and 2002, were never warm. Davis was forced out of office in a 2003 recall election. In the 1992 general election, nothing worked for the hapless Seymour, the appointed GOP incumbent—not his switch from having opposed abortion rights to favoring them, not his attempt to play on fears of illegal immigration and not his attacks on Feinstein’s arguably tricky financing of her 1990 gubernatorial campaign, which resulted in a $190,000 fine. Feinstein won 54%-38%, coming close even in Seymour’s Southern California base.
In the Senate, Feinstein kept a distance from the Clinton administration, negotiating for changes before voting for its 1993 budget, voting against the North American Free Trade Agreement, and withdrawing her support of the Clinton health care plan in 1994. She was also critical of the Democratic president after he was caught lying about having a sexual relationship with a White House intern. Feinstein had two significant legislative achievements in her first two years. One was a ban on assault weapons in 1994. When Idaho Republican Larry Craig argued that her definition of assault weapons was not rigorous enough and challenged her knowledge of firearms, she stopped the argument in its tracks by reminding the Senate of the horrific tragedy earlier in her political career. “I know something about what firearms can do,” Feinstein said. “I came to be mayor of San Francisco as a product of assassination.” (In 2000, she sponsored an unsuccessful bill to require licensing of all guns and in 2004, pressed fervently for reauthorization of the 1994 assault-weapons ban. The act expired in September 2004.) Her other achievement in her early Senate years was the California Desert Protection Act, which had long been held up by the state’s Republican senators as too restrictive.
Feinstein has had a moderate to liberal voting record and has differed on some issues from her colleague and Bay Area neighbor, Democratic Sen. Barbara Boxer. Feinstein voted to repeal the marriage penalty and the estate tax. She supported the Bush tax cut in 2001 and the Iraq War resolution in 2002, although two years later she said she had been misled into voting for the war by an exaggeration of the threat and regretted her vote. Feinstein supported the GOP’s Medicare prescription-drug bill in 2003 as well. She supported the death penalty and took a tough stance on fighting terrorism after September 11. With Republican Jon Kyl of Arizona, she co-sponsored a bill to bar entry to the United States for people from nations that sponsor terrorism, plus other measures that were more stringent than a similar bill sponsored by Massachusetts Democrat Edward Kennedy and Kansas Republican Sam Brownback. The two versions were melded and signed into law in 2002.
On the Judiciary Committee, Feinstein took an active role in the immigration debate in recent years. She pressed in 2005 for reauthorization of the federal program reimbursing state and local governments for the cost of detaining illegal immigrants. In the debate on immigration in 2006, she opposed guest-worker proposals, and she and Boxer proposed a 20-year sentence for people caught building or financing underground cross-border tunnels, which became part of the border-fence bill that passed both houses in September. On other issues in the Judiciary Committee, Feinstein joined with Utah Republican Orrin Hatch to get 54 senators to sign a letter calling for more embryonic-stem-cell research, which uses excess embryos from in vitro fertilization. She supported Pennsylvania Republican Arlen Specter’s bill establishing a compensation fund for asbestos victims and won passage of an amendment requiring that the sickest claimants be paid first. But the bill came up two votes short of the needed 60 in 2006. In 2005, Feinstein said she did not believe that the USA PATRIOT Act, the Bush administration’s centerpiece anti-terrorism law, had led to violations of civil liberties, a statement cited by President Bush in pressing for renewal of the act. She also was the only Democrat on the committee to vote in 2006 for the amendment authorizing prosecutions for flag desecration.
Feinstein was less bipartisan in the war over some of President Bush’s judicial nominees, but she also was frequently willing to compromise in the end. With other Judiciary Democrats, she opposed several nominees to the federal appeals court. But then, with Boxer, she made an arrangement with the Bush administration to set up six-member panels to decide on the potential merits of federal trial judges in California. Three members were appointed by each side, and four votes were required to approve a nominee. This bypassed the senior Republicans in the House delegation. In May 2005, Feinstein voted against the nomination of conservative nominee Priscilla Owen, but declined to take the harsher step of a filibuster. After an interview with Supreme Court nominee John Roberts in July 2005, she called him “very impressive” but opposed his confirmation nonetheless, out of concern that he might overturn the Roe v. Wade decision legalizing abortion. After Harriet Miers’s nomination for the high court was withdrawn in October 2005, Feinstein said, “I don’t believe they would have attacked a man the way she was attacked.” In 2007, Feinstein and New York’s Charles Schumer were the only Judiciary Committee Democrats to vote to confirm Michael Mukasey as attorney general. But she was not so gentle with the administration when it came to the abrupt firing of seven U.S. attorneys, including Carol Lam in San Diego, in a purge that was assailed as politically motivated. Feinstein questioned whether Lam’s firing was related to the criminal investigation of California Rep. Randy (Duke) Cunningham, a Republican who pleaded guilty to accepting bribes.
In January 2009, Feinstein became chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee and indicated she wanted to clean house at the intelligence agencies. “My view is that it’s time for a new start,” she said. “I want to see the Senate Intelligence Committee with much closer oversight and a much closer relationship with the intelligence community.” When former Clinton White House chief of staff Leon Panetta was announced as Obama’s choice for director of the Central Intelligence Agency, she said that she thought Obama should have appointed “an intelligence professional.” But after Vice President Joseph Biden said it was a mistake not to have informed her in advance of the appointment, she was conciliatory, saying, “I’m very respectful of the president’s authority, and if this is the man he wants, then that means a lot to me.”
Feinstein doesn’t hesitate to go her own way on the committee, no matter what her party’s preferences. She had called for a single national intelligence director in 2002, long before the 9/11 Commission recommended one. In 2007, she supported immunity for telecommunications companies that had allowed the government to listen in on telephone calls from suspected terrorists abroad to persons in the United States. Many Democrats opposed immunity for the companies. Feinstein attached amendments to the 2007 and 2008 intelligence authorization bills to require that all government interrogations be conducted under the rules of the Army Field Manual, and she attempted to apply that standard to government contractors as well. In January 2009, she called for closing the detention camp at Guantanamo, which she called a “failed experiment.” In February 2009, she was criticized for saying that Predator drones directed at extremists near the Pakistan-Afghanistan border were launched from bases in Pakistan. A Feinstein aide said that the fact had been revealed in the Washington Post months earlier.
On the Senate Rules Committee, Feinstein has worked on institutional reforms. She co-sponsored a requirement that earmarks added to spending bills be posted on the Internet for at least 24 hours. She was in the spotlight in January 2009, when former Illinois Attorney General Roland Burris, a Democrat, was appointed by Gov. Rod Blagojevich to fill Obama’s Senate seat. Democratic leaders initially said they would refuse to seat him because his appointment was tainted by allegations that Blagojevich had demanded personal and political favors in exchange. Feinstein argued that Burris should be seated, and she prevailed. She said: “The question, really, is one, in my view, of law. And that is, does the governor have the power to make the appointment? And the answer is yes. Is the governor discredited? And the answer is yes. Does that affect his appointment power? And the answer is no, until certain things happen.” Burris, after being turned back at the door of the Capitol, was seated. As Rules chairman in the 110th Congress, Feinstein also presided over the presidential inauguration ceremonies on January 20.
With a seat on the powerful Appropriations Committee and on the Energy and Water Development Subcommittee, Feinstein has worked for several years to revive the CALFED program, which attempts to resolve water-scarcity issues in California. In 2003 and 2004, she worked with House Resources Chairman Richard Pombo, a California Republican, to reauthorize CALFED and to protect water quality in San Francisco Bay and the Sacramento Delta. And in 2006, when the delta levees were threatened by severe flood, she and Boxer backed spending $22 million to repair 29 levee sites. Feinstein also has sought public and private funding to protect old-growth redwoods in the Headwaters Forest and salt ponds in the San Francisco Bay area.
She is more accommodating of trade ties with China than her powerful home-state ally, U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. Feinstein has supported trade with China since she established a sister-city relationship in 1990 between San Francisco and Shanghai, then led by Jiang Zemin. She opposed Pelosi’s efforts to impose penalties on China because of its human rights violations. In 2005, Feinstein called on China to crack down on piracy of intellectual property and to revalue its currency, but she opposed a bill sponsored by Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., and Schumer to impose 27.5% tariffs on Chinese goods if it did not revalue.
Feinstein has had only one serious challenge since she was elected to the Senate, in the Republican year of 1994. U.S. Rep. Michael Huffington spent $30 million of his own money running against her and pulled even in the polls in September. Feinstein was clearly frustrated that she could not count on outspending him. Huffington slipped when it was revealed that he and his wife, Arianna Huffington, employed an illegal alien as a nanny. (Arianna Huffington now runs the liberal Huffington Post blog.) On the Thursday before the election, it was revealed that Feinstein, despite her earlier denials, had employed a woman whose work permit had expired. The media ran stories casting doubt on assertions that the woman was an illegal alien. That probably made the difference. Feinstein won 47%–45%. She carried Los Angeles County 52%-40% and the San Francisco Bay Area 63%-30%, offsetting Huffington’s margins in Southern California and the rest of the state.
Since then, Feinstein has enjoyed positive poll ratings. In 2000, Republican U.S. Rep. Tom Campbell, a libertarian Stanford Law professor, challenged her. Campbell had also tried to run against Boxer in 1992, but failed to get the nomination. This time, Feinstein far outspent her opponent, $10.3 million to $4.4 million. She won 56%-37%, carrying all of the major regions of the state. In her 2006 re-election contest, Republicans nominated conservative state Sen. Richard Mountjoy. Feinstein spent $8 million on her campaign, while Mountjoy spent just $195,000. She won 59%-35%.
In July 2007, Feinstein endorsed Hillary Rodham Clinton for president in her primary contest with Barack Obama and backed her strongly in the California primary. But in May 2008, after Clinton lost badly in North Carolina and won only narrowly in Indiana, Feinstein said, “I think the race is reaching the point now where there are negative dividends in it, in terms of strife within the party.” On June 5, two days after the last primaries, Feinstein hosted a meeting between Clinton and Obama in her Washington home. While the two talked for an hour, she worked upstairs. After Clinton’s withdrawal from the race, Feinstein pushed her for the vice presidential nomination.
In late 2008 and early 2009, Feinstein was being mentioned as a possible candidate for governor in 2010, when Republican Arnold Schwarzenegger will reach the end of his second term. Polls showed her ahead in a theoretical Democratic primary and general election. In early 2009, as other Democrats jockeyed for the nomination, she said there was still plenty of time for her to decide whether to run. Her Senate seat comes up for re-election in 2012.