“I am quite familiar with firearms,” Dianne responded, with fire in her eyes. “I became mayor as a product of assassination. I found my assassinated colleague and put a finger through a bullet hole trying to get a pulse. I was trained in the shooting of a firearm when I had terrorist attacks, with a bomb in my house, when my husband was dying, when I had windows shot out. Senator, I know something about what firearms can do.”
Craig was left sputtering, and the Senate passed the assault weapons ban thanks to Dianne’s tireless advocacy. My husband proudly signed the ban and it helped keep millions of Americans safer for a decade.
Feinstein, who passed away on Thursday evening, was a giant of the Senate. She was brave, honorable, honest and unafraid to do what was right for her constituents and her country. We both came to Washington in 1993, I as first lady and Dianne as senator. When she used her first floor speech to support the Family and Medical Leave Act, I knew I had found a kindred spirit.
When I joined Dianne in the small sisterhood of Senate women eight years later, I gained an appreciation for her blend of principle and pragmatism. In an institution known for show horses, she was a workhorse. Perhaps because she had been a mayor, she believed in delivering results not rhetoric — and that’s what she did.
Dianne was tough and sometimes formal, but she had a big heart and enormous compassion. She was an early advocate for LGBTQ rights and people suffering from HIV and AIDS. As a trailblazer for women in politics, she opened space for those of us who followed.
I learned a tremendous amount from Dianne. We strategized, commiserated, laughed, drank California chardonnay and one time even planned a covert operation: Dianne hosted a secret meeting in the living room of her Northwest D.C. home, where then-Sen. Barack Obama and I made peace after the grueling 2008 primary. We chose to meet there because we both trusted Dianne. (She let us in, offered a glass of wine and left us alone.)
For all of us who loved Dianne, her passing is a deep personal loss. It is also a loss for our country when we are in desperate need of leaders willing to show half the backbone she displayed throughout her storied career.
Her calm determination in the wake of the 1978 assassination of San Francisco Mayor George Moscone and city Supervisor Harvey Milk by a fellow council member reassured a shaken city. That tragedy didn’t just make her mayor, it gave her a mission. She took on the NRA and won. She became a champion for the rule of law and democratic institutions and refused to be intimidated by anyone.
As the chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee, she exposed torture and other abuses committed by the CIA after 9/11, despite efforts to keep her silent. She was a strong supporter of the intelligence community, but she believed those abuses could not be covered up. “History will judge us by our commitment to a just society governed by law and the willingness to face an ugly truth and say ‘never again,’” she said.
Those are words we should remember as we face the challenges ahead. Dianne has left the national scene at another moment of political violence and threats to the rule of law. So, we must again face ugly truths and do what is right.
The cries of an insurrectionist mob have barely faded from the halls of the Capitol. Former president Donald Trump, whose incendiary rhetoric has repeatedly incited violence, recently said Army Gen. Mark A. Milley, the just-retired chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, had committed “a treasonous act” for which “in times gone by, the punishment would have been DEATH!” As President Biden noted, while most Republicans may not agree, the silence is deafening.
Trump and his supporters have also suggested that if he regains the presidency, he will seek to gut checks on executive power, weaponize the Justice Department to pursue political opponents, eviscerate the civil service and attempt to put himself above the law. This is a man who has been indicted on a charge of a conspiracy to overturn an election and called for the “termination of all rules, regulations, and articles, even those found in the Constitution.”
We should believe him when he tells us what he’ll do next.
We could have used Dianne’s voice in the fights ahead. Democracy needs champions. So do our institutions, creaky and frustrating as they might be. The United States needs leaders willing to respond to attacks on the rule of law with the same fearlessness that Dianne showed when she exposed unlawful “enhanced interrogation techniques.” We must summon the passion of Dianne’s answer to Sen. Craig back in 1993. We all can honor her legacy by finding in ourselves the courage that Dianne showed on that bloody day in 1978.
Dianne’s journey has ended, but the fights of her life are far from over.