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Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D)

California

N/A

feinstein.senate.gov

Biography

Elected: Nov. 1992, term expires 2018, 4th full term.

Born: June 22, 1933, San Francisco, CA

Home: San Francisco, CA

Education: Stanford U., B.A. 1955

Professional Career: CA Women's Parole Bd., 1960–66.

Ethnicity: White/Caucasian

Religion: Jewish

Family: Married (Richard C. Blum) , 1 child; 3 stepchildren

Dianne Feinstein, California’s senior senator, is a Democrat first elected in 1992. She is a respected pragmatist who can be a crucial ally to President Obama -- particularly on gun control -- as well as an annoyance to the White House with her blunt outspokenness on national-security matters.

Feinstein 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. 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. Much later, when the film Milk was released to critical acclaim in 2008, Feinstein told The New York Times that she wasn’t sure she’d ever be able to watch it. “It’s very painful for me,” she said.

In 1984, Democratic presidential candidate Walter Mondale seriously considered Feinstein 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.

Ineligible for a third 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 opposing 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. Feinstein’s tough-on-crime background led her to sponsor 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. As the Democratic Party’s support for gun control waned, Feinstein had a harder time convincing her colleagues to consider new gun restrictions. After a gunman at a Colorado movie theatre killed 12 people and injured 58 others in July 2012, Feinstein lamented that “there is no outrage out there” to spur a crackdown on guns.

But the public mood changed just a few months later, with the December 2012 mass shooting of 26 small children and teachers at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn. Feinstein immediately became the point person in the Democratic-controlled Senate for legislation even tougher than the 1994 law; it would ban assault weapons and high-capacity magazines. But Democrat leaders subsequently abandoned pushing for the new ban to focus on measures they hoped could draw more bipartisan support, such as expanding the criminal background check system and cracking down on so-called "straw purchasers" buying guns for criminals. But those proposals also ran into  fierce opposition, and Feinstein blamed the National Rifle Association for making colleagues afraid to vote on the assault weapons ban. “A fear has set in that if they vote for the bill they won’t be re-elected. It’s that plain, it’s that simple,” she told a San Francisco audience in April 2013.

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. She supported the Bush tax cuts 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. With Republican Sen. Jon Kyl of Arizona, she co-sponsored a bill to bar entry to the United States for people from nations that sponsor terrorism, which became law in 2002.

On the Judiciary Committee, Feinstein took an active role in the immigration debate in recent years. She favors a guest worker program for agricultural workers and would allow illegal aliens with U.S. work history to obtain “blue cards” to allow them to work for two years. In the debate on immigration in 2006, 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. On other issues, Feinstein disagreed with other Democrats who claimed 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.

In 2005, 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. 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’ 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 recent years, Feinstein has become an outspoken proponent of gay rights. In February 2011, she introduced a bill to repeal the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act, which established that U.S. law recognizes only heterosexual marriages and prevented gay couples from receiving federal benefits. The Obama White House endorsed Feinstein’s repeal effort.

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 the president 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.”

When former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden leaked details of the NSA's domestic surveillance efforts in 2013, Feinstein was the Obama administration's most prominent Democratic defender. She accused Snowden of "treason" and took the agency to task for not being able to prevent him from accessing so much highly classified material. The situation caused her approval ratings among Californians to plummet, falling below Boxer's in January 2014 for the first time in 20 years. She shrugged it off. "Numbers go down, numbers go up," she told the Los Angeles Times, adding: "I don't think people understand" the NSA's work.

Feinstein doesn’t hesitate to go her own way on the committee. 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, though many Democrats opposed immunity. 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 Bay, Cuba, which she called a “failed experiment.” She later became engaged in protracted negotiations with the Obama administration over the public release of a report detailing the CIA's use of harsh interrogation techniques; she and other Democrats said the administration redacted far too much information. She also said the White House wasn't always prompt in notifying her about its decisions.

No issue, however, drew as much attention as Feinstein's accusation in March 2014 that the CIA had secretly removing classified documents from her Intelligence Committee staff's computers in the middle of an oversight investigation. "I have asked for an apology and a recognition that this CIA search of computers used by its oversight committee was inappropriate. I have received neither," she said. After the agency conducted an investigation and apologized four months later, she said the probe and apology were "positive first steps," but stopped short of joining several of her colleagues in calling for CIA Director John Brennan to resign.

Feinstein also repeatedly has prodded Obama to abandon his inherent cautiousness and pay more attention to global threats. In July 2014, she questioned whether he was spending too much time fundraising as conflicts raged between Israelis and Palestinians, between Russia and the Ukraine and in Iraq with the Islamic State terrorist group. “I’m not going to tell the president what to do, but I think the world would very much respect his increased attention on this matter, and I think there ought to be increased attention,” she told MSNBC. A month later, when Obama said he lacked a strategy to deal with the Islamic State, she told NBC: “I think I've learned one thing about this president, and that is he's very cautious. Maybe in this instance, too cautious.”

Feinstein frequently joins with Republicans in the increasingly anachronistic method of getting legislation passed through compromise. In January 2009, she and conservative Sen. John Cornyn of Texas co-sponsored a bill to create a permanent commission to guarantee the financial viability of Social Security and Medicare. In March 2009, she and Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy of Vermont hammered out a compromise creating clearer requirements in patent infringement cases. In 2010, she won wide agreement on a national registry for convicted arsonists and bombers. On the Senate Rules Committee, Feinstein has worked on institutional reforms, co-sponsoring a requirement that earmarks added to spending bills be posted on the Internet for at least 24 hours. As Rules chairman, she also presided over Obama’s inauguration ceremonies on January 20, 2009.

With a seat on the powerful Appropriations Committee, Feinstein has sought public and private funding to protect old-growth redwoods in the Headwaters Forest and salt ponds in the San Francisco Bay area and to prohibit development, including solar plants and wind farms, on an additional 1 million acres in the Mojave Desert. She is more accommodating of trade ties with China than San Francisco neighbor Nancy Pelosi, the House minority leader. Feinstein has supported trade with China since she established a sister-city relationship in 1990 between San Francisco and Shanghai. 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 bipartisan bill 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. 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 news website.) On the Thursday before the election, it was revealed that Feinstein, despite her earlier denials, had employed a woman whose work permit had expired. Feinstein won only narrowly, 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.

In 2000, Republican U.S. Rep. Tom Campbell, a libertarian Stanford Law professor, challenged her. Feinstein far outspent him, $10.3 million to $4.4 million, and won 56%-37%, carrying all of the major regions of the state. In her 2006 reelection contest, Republicans nominated conservative former state Sen. Richard Mountjoy, who was never a serious threat, and she won, 59%-35%.

As she prepared to run again in 2012, a state poll showed that she was vulnerable; just 41% of voters approved of her job performance, and 44% of voters said they would not vote to reelect her. Compounding problems for Feinstein was a scandal involving her former campaign treasurer, Kinde Durkee, who was arrested for allegedly stealing huge sums from her California clients, including an estimated $4.5 million from Feinstein’s campaign. But the campaign of her opponent, autism activist Elizabeth Emken, failed to get traction. Emken raised just $914,000 to Feinstein’s $9.8 million, and the incumbent won with 63% of the vote to Emken’s 37%.

Office Contact Information

MAIN OFFICE

(202) 224-3841

(202) 228-3954

HSOB- Hart Senate Office Building Room 331
Washington, DC 20510-0504

MAIN OFFICE

(202) 224-3841

(202) 228-3954

HSOB- Hart Senate Office Building Room 331
Washington, DC 20510-0504

DISTRICT OFFICE

(202) 224-3841

(202) 228-3954

One Post Street Suite 2450
San Francisco, CA 94104-5240

DISTRICT OFFICE

(415) 393-0707

(415) 393-0710

One Post Street Suite 2450
San Francisco, CA 94104-5240

DISTRICT OFFICE

(202) 224-3841

(202) 228-3954

2500 Tulare Street Suite 4290
Fresno, CA 93721

DISTRICT OFFICE

(559) 485-7430

(559) 485-9689

2500 Tulare Street Suite 4290
Fresno, CA 93721

DISTRICT OFFICE

(310) 914-7300

(310) 914-7318

11111 Santa Monica Boulevard Suite 915
Los Angeles, CA 90025-3343

DISTRICT OFFICE

(202) 224-3841

(202) 228-3954

11111 Santa Monica Boulevard Suite 915
Los Angeles, CA 90025-3343

DISTRICT OFFICE

(202) 224-3841

(202) 228-3954

880 Front Street Suite 4236
San Diego, CA 92101

DISTRICT OFFICE

(619) 231-9712

(619) 231-1108

880 Front Street Suite 3296
San Diego, CA 92101

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Director of Constituent Services

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Spencer Myers
Legislative Correspondent

Election Results

2012 GENERAL
Dianne Feinstein
Votes: 7,864,624
Percent: 62.52%
Elizabeth Emken
Votes: 4,713,887
Percent: 37.48%
2012 PRIMARY
Dianne Feinstein
Votes: 2,392,822
Percent: 49.29%
Elizabeth Emken
Votes: 613,613
Percent: 12.64%
Dan Hughes
Votes: 323,840
Percent: 6.67%
2006 GENERAL
Dianne Feinstein
Votes: 5,076,289
Percent: 59.0%
Dick Mountjoy
Votes: 2,990,822
Percent: 35.0%
2006 PRIMARY
Dianne Feinstein
Votes: 2,176,829
Percent: 87.0%
Colleen Fernald
Votes: 191,170
Percent: 8.0%
Prior Winning Percentages
2006 (59%), 2000 (56%); 1994 (47%); 1992 special (54%)

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