Skip to content

Feinstein will retire rather than run again in 2024

California Democrat, who turns 90 in June, is oldest serving senator

Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., said she will not run for reelection next year.
Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., said she will not run for reelection next year. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)

Sen. Dianne Feinstein, whose extraordinary career in California politics spans more than 50 years, announced Tuesday that she won’t seek reelection. 

“I am announcing today I will not run for reelection in 2024 but intend to accomplish as much for California as I can through the end of next year when my term ends,” Feinstein said in a statement.

The news wasn’t surprising: Feinstein, who at 89 is the oldest member of the Senate, raised just $559 in the final quarter of 2022 and had $9,969 in her campaign account on Dec. 31. 

Two Democratic House members are already running for Feinstein’s seat and another is expected to enter the race. Some of Feinstein’s Senate colleagues have raised concerns about a cognitive decline, while other Democrats say her moderate brand of politics is out of step with today’s Democratic Party.

In the statement announcing her decision, Feinstein said she had plenty of work still to do in the Senate. Her term expires in January 2025.

“I also remain focused on passing commonsense legislation to fight the epidemic of gun violence, preserving our pristine lands and promoting economic growth – especially to position California for what I believe will be the century of the Pacific,” Feinstein said. “And I will use my seniority on the Appropriations Committee to ensure California gets its fair share of funding.”

A native of San Francisco, Feinstein has been a barrier-breaker throughout her career. She became the first woman mayor in her home city’s history in 1978, after the assassination of Mayor George Moscone. Fourteen years later, she and Barbara Boxer were elected as California’s first female senators.

In recent months, whispers in both California and Washington about Feinstein’s mental acuity have grown louder. Some of her Senate colleagues have complained anonymously to reporters about her ability to do her job, noting that the once nimble and savvy politician now has trouble remembering conversations and keeping up with Senate business.

Feinstein’s office has pushed back, saying she continues to fulfill the responsibilities of the job. 

But in a sign of her political vulnerability, two Democratic members of the California House delegation — Katie Porter and Adam B. Schiff — didn’t wait for Feinstein to disclose her plans. Both have already kicked off their Senate campaigns and a third Democrat — Rep. Barbara Lee — is expected to join the race any day.

Schiff praised Feinstein, calling her “one of the finest legislators our state and country have ever known” and said her record of pushing bills that address gun safety, environmental protection and LGBTQ rights “will define her legacy.”

Former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said she would back Schiff — but only if Feinstein didn’t run.

Political centrist

A political centrist with a reputation for a cautious style of governing, Feinstein has long favored the middle ground, an approach that often put her at odds with the progressives who dominate California Democratic politics.

“I’m probably less an ideologue than I am one for solving the problem of the day, whatever it might be,” she once said, nearly two decades into her Senate tenure. “Most problems around here require bipartisan solutions; therefore, I think working across partisan lines is very important where one can.”

She drew the ire of her party’s liberal wing for blocking efforts to scrap the filibuster. In 2018, the California Democratic Party declined to endorse her reelection bid (she won anyway.)

Liberals were also angry over Feinstein’s handling of the confirmation hearings for Supreme Court Justice Amy Coney Barrett in 2020.

Feinstein praised Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, who was then the judiciary panel’s chairman, for the way the hearings were conducted and gave him a hug at the conclusion of the proceedings. The gesture angered progressives, who maintained that Barrett’s nomination was jammed through inappropriately close to the presidential election. By that November, Feinstein had stepped aside from her role as the top Democrat on the committee.

Her support for the business community and tough-on-crime stance countered the stereotype of the “San Francisco liberal.” 

But she also championed efforts to address climate change and helped craft consumer safety measures.

As the first woman to lead the Senate Intelligence Committee, she pushed back against harsh interrogation tactics used on terrorism suspects during the administration of former President George W. Bush.

Feinstein is also known as the author of a 1994 law banning some semi-automatic weapons. She ushered the measure through Congress despite vehement opposition by the National Rifle Association. The law expired in 2004 and Feinstein has repeatedly sought a renewal. She tried, but failed, to bring the measure up again in 2017 after a gunman opened fire on concertgoers in Las Vegas, killing 58 people.

Last year, Feinstein once again called for reinstatement of the ban, arguing it could cut down on mass shootings like the one at an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas, and the racist attack at a Buffalo, N.Y., supermarket that left 10 people dead.

Recent Stories

Capitol Lens | Rapper’s delight

Cotton among GOP lawmakers who back defendants in Jan. 6 case

Iranian retaliatory attack on Israel flips script as Biden had pressed for changes in Gaza

Total eclipse of the Hart (and Russell buildings) — Congressional Hits and Misses

House plans to send Mayorkas impeachment articles to Senate on Tuesday

Harris sticks with Agriculture spending, Amodei likely to head DHS panel