When Kamala Harris was sworn into the Senate in 2017, it was her California colleague Dianne Feinstein who welcomed her.
“She invited me to her Senate hideaway. There, with one hand, she presented me with a glass of California chardonnay. And with the other hand, a binder full of her draft bills,” the vice president said from the steps of San Francisco City Hall at Feinstein’s funeral Thursday. “And true to her mayoral roots, she was deeply immersed in the details of each bill and how each would play on the streets of our beloved state.”
Harris, like others who remembered Feinstein, depicted her as a titan of the Senate whose roots in California politics shaped her.
“I was born in the early ’70s, so as a kid as far as I could remember … Dianne Feinstein was the mayor. And for kids my age, we just always accepted that a woman could be in charge. That a woman could do whatever a man could do. We considered it normal,” San Francisco Mayor London Breed said. “Millions of girls my age and long after me have grown blissfully free of the yokes our grandmothers wore because Dianne Feinstein wrestled them off.”
Feinstein died of natural causes on Sept. 29, at age 90, in her Washington, D.C., home, not long after casting her final vote after more than three decades in the Senate. She was California’s first woman senator and the longest-serving senator in the state’s history.
Unlike some high-profile lawmakers before her who lay in state at the U.S. Capitol, Feinstein’s family opted for services at San Francisco City Hall, where her political career began. Harris and Breed were joined by Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer, Speaker Emerita Nancy Pelosi and Feinstein’s granddaughter, Eileen Mariano, on the steps of the imposing building for the closed ceremony.
City Hall is the place where, in November 1978, Feinstein announced to a shocked crowd of reporters that Mayor George Moscone and Supervisor Harvey Milk had been gunned down. Feinstein, who was the first female president of the city’s Board of Supervisors at the time, became acting mayor and went on to serve two terms. The events of that day propelled her to national prominence and forever tied her to gun safety.
Feinstein authored the bill banning assault weapons that would eventually become law in 1994, arguably her crowning achievement in the Senate. She would continue to advocate for gun violence prevention throughout her career.
“She worked that bill harder than I’d seen anyone work a bill,” Schumer said of the ban, which expired in 2004. “Attacking every angle. Thinking of every pitfall. Resisting every broadside from the NRA — because she knew her cause to be just, from her own experience.”
Pelosi, who had known Feinstein for decades and was her San Francisco neighbor, flew back to California with Feinstein’s body over the weekend. On Wednesday, Feinstein’s casket sat in a place of honor at City Hall, as mourners streamed by to pay their respects. Her service on Thursday was live-streamed but closed to the public due to security concerns, though her office clarified Thursday there was no specific threat. The service was followed by a private burial.
Pelosi called Feinstein generous but strong, a trailblazing leader and a loyal friend and colleague. She was also an artist and a green thumb, whose hydrangeas were the envy of the neighborhood, according to the former speaker.
“Dianne cultivated flowers. She loved flowers, to grow them, to show them, to paint them and share them, on drawings and on mugs. Anyone here have a Dianne mug?” Pelosi asked the crowd.
Feinstein was born in San Francisco in 1933 and studied history at Stanford University, where she was student body president. She made her mark in local Bay Area politics, serving on San Francisco’s Board of Supervisors for nearly a decade before becoming the city’s first female mayor.
She was appointed to the position in 1978 following the assassinations of Moscone and Milk and won reelection in 1979 and 1983. She ran unsuccessfully for governor of California in 1990 but beat Republican John Seymour in a special election for the Senate in 1992.
In more than three decades in the Senate, Feinstein led Democrats on the Judiciary and Intelligence committees, shaping national security legislation and, in 2014, exposing the CIA’s use of torture in Iraq, which she called “a stain on our values and on our history.” She was also a leading voice against President Donald Trump’s judicial nominees, including Supreme Court Justices Neil M. Gorsuch and Brett M. Kavanaugh.
She earned a reputation as a fierce defender of the institution of the Senate and a political pragmatist, willing to work across the aisle to get things done.
“As a public servant, Dianne had the courage to take on the many tough fights, even when she was faced with fierce opposition and political peril, and especially when her work was in defense of the Constitution and the security of the American people,” Harris said at the service. “Dianne commanded respect, and gave respect. She was a serious and gracious person who welcomed debate and discussion, but always required that it would be well-informed and studied.”
More recently, Feinstein was plagued by questions about her declining health and her mental acuity. A bout with shingles in 2023 caused her to be absent from the Senate for much of her last year in office. Her Democratic colleagues attempted to temporarily replace her on the Judiciary Committee during her absence, but Republicans signaled they wouldn’t allow the move.
She ultimately announced her plan to retire at the end of her term, in 2025, which set off a tightly contested race to succeed her, with Democratic California Reps. Barbara Lee, Katie Porter and Adam B. Schiff all vying for the spot.
Her husband, the investment banker Richard Blum, died of cancer in early 2022.
Niels Lesniewski and Jim Saksa contributed to this report.