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Inside Politics

Giant Of The Senate, Dianne Feinstein, Passes Away At 90. Aired 12:30-1p ET

Aired September 29, 2023 - 12:30   ET




REP. NANCY PELOSI (D), CALIFORNIA: Thank you, Mr. Speaker, for the purpose of speaking with great sadness and emotion about the loss of our great senator, our senior senator from California, Senator Dianne Feinstein. I do so, as I say personally, as a friend, neighbor and fellow San Franciscan, all of us do so with great pride, as the great senator she has been to our state. The longest serving woman, senator from California.


DANA BASH, CNN HOST: That was House Speaker -- former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi you saw surrounded there by members of the California congressional delegation, paying tribute to her longtime friend and congressional colleague, Dianne Feinstein.

Joining me now to talk about her colleague and friend, Senator -- excuse me -- Democratic Senator Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota. Thank you so much for coming in.


BASH: We'll talk about Senator Feinstein. You served with her on the Senate Judiciary Committee. And you really got to know her and to understand the power and the legacy that we're talking about this morning.

KLOBUCHAR: She was a trailblazer. I was thinking about when she first came in in the Year of the Women in 1992. So few women, and now we're up over 25 percent of the Senate. And listening this morning on the Senate floor is people like Patty Murray, Susan Collins, now heading up the Appropriations Committee together.

She was a mentor to them. She was a mentor to me. She taught me how to -- that when you were a senator, you better have your act together. You better know the details. I have one of my fondest memories is staying overnight at her house in San Francisco after a political event. She invited me to stay there.

And at 7:30 in the morning summoned to me. She was sitting up in bed with these fuzzy slippers on reading the entire draft Patent Reform Act and started as a young member of the Judiciary Committee. She's quizzing me on various parts of it.

She got ahead because of true grit and her fierceness. She was not want to be that emotional all the time, I'll be honest. She was wanting to base her decisions on facts and one to actually lead by example. And that's what she did for so many.

BASH: When you're a trailblazing woman, you don't -- you can't afford to be emotional. Let's be honest, right?

KLOBUCHAR: That is right.

BASH: Yes, you can't.

KLOBUCHAR: Not a lot of tears.

BASH: No, no, because then you're -- it's already hard enough. I don't need to tell you. So that's one thing. The other thing that you met -- that I'm thinking about as part of that story is that she was the first woman appointed to the Senate Judiciary Committee She was not an attorney.


BASH: Which would -- you do have non attorneys on the Judiciary Committee, but it's a lot harder.


KLOBUCHAR: Exactly. And for a while, it was just the two of us on there. And I think part of this was what drove her into office. Remember, she was a San Francisco City Council member, horrible assassination on the mayor and Harvey Milk. She's one that announces it to the nation, and then ends up as male.

So guns and the assault weapon ban, historic assault weapon ban, she was ahead of her time. So that kind of work drove her to be part of the Judiciary Committee, because she could then use that as a platform to get her bills passed. And she did that quite effectively.

BASH: You mentioned this, I just want to put it up, so it kind of really sinks in for our viewers on the screen. Just the difference between then and now when it comes to female representation in the U.S. Senate.

She was elected in the famous year of the woman in '92. When she -- before she came in, there were three, after she came in that were six, including Patty Murray, who you talked about, and today, you are one of 24 women. As I like to say, that's not 50, that's not half, but it's certainly not three. How did she mentor you and and sort of show you the ropes, not just as a senator, but as a female senator?

KLOBUCHAR: Well, she had this generous spirit and she was always looking out for people. I mean, she had some wealth on her own, and some of us would come in, you know, driving or Saturn in my case across the country. And she would help us in knowing what the rules were at the Senate.

She was a stickler on dress. And it was noted today by Senator Murkowski on the floor of how Senator Feinstein clearly would have believed in a dress code. And I know that because I took over the Rules Committee, we were both the only women that have ever chaired it. So she would talk to me about this often.

But at one point, she told me that this seersucker suit date was coming up. We don't wear a lot of seersucker suits in Minnesota. She know that. So she called to get my measurements. I'm like, what is going on? And as she did for many women senators, she actually bought us a seersucker suit.

And that when I look at that suit hanging in my closet, I think --

BASH: That is amazing.

KLOBUCHAR: -- Dianne did that for me. Yes. She got one for Hillary Clinton that 1.2. She -- that is -- that was her thing.

BASH: I love that. All right, as -- I know you have to get back for votes, but as you do, I just want to put this up. This is -- she was very artistic.


BASH: This is a painting that she made. And I was lucky enough to get this from her when I visited her in her home in San Francisco. It's called Washington Spring. I know you have one of this too.

KLOBUCHAR: I have one too, yes.

BASH: This is another interesting aspect.

KLOBUCHAR: Yes, she was an incredible woman and we're going to miss her.

BASH: Very much. So, thank you for coming in.

KLOBUCHAR: Thank you, Dana.

BASH: Appreciate it.

Now, we're going to be joined by another one of Senator Feinstein's colleagues, Senator Chris Coons of Delaware. Senator, thank you so much for coming on with me. It's such a busy day. I know you have a lot of very fond memories of Senator Feinstein.

SEN. CHRIS COONS, SERVED WITH FEINSTEIN FOR 13 YEARS: I do, Dana, and thank you so much for giving her the respect, the honor that she's do. Senator Feinstein was someone who was first elected to the Senate when I was a law student. And I followed the arc of her service and ever leadership here closely because I had the chance to meet her when she was just in her first year as a U.S. senator.

I never imagined I'd get to serve alongside her on both the Appropriations Committee and the Judiciary Committee. But when I got here 13 years ago, Senator Feinstein was in fine form. She was gracious and dignified. She was proper. She was always prepared.

But she was also fierce, determined and incredibly capable. As you've heard several of my colleagues say on the floor this morning, she engaged in important even tectonic fights, defending the prerogatives of the Senate against the CIA in the fight over torture.

I'm standing up for the interests of her home state of California on a wide range of interests, and fighting for women, being someone who worked hard to pass the Violence Against Women Act. Someone who was not just a trailblazer, but a door opener for so many others who followed behind her.

Senator Patty Murray, who's now the president pro tem of the Senate, was also elected with her in the so-called Year of the Woman back in 1992. And it's a reminder of just what a transformation she helped bring to this body to the Senate and to our country.

The last thing I'll mention is that she was very close to my predecessor, then-Senator Joe Biden. He was the chairman of the Judiciary Committee, worked hard to welcome her and recruit her onto the Judiciary Committee. And Senator Feinstein shared with me a number of privately funny stories about her service with Chairman Biden, the things they agreed on, the things they disagreed on.


She had a real soft spot for him. And she was the sort of person who had no enemies in the Senate, even if folks disagreed with her as a matter of policy. I was just on the floor talking to some of the most senior and seasoned Republican senators.

Every single one of them had a story about her graciousness, her thoughtfulness, her generosity, hosting them in her home, telling jokes with him on the floor of the Senate, even as she fought fiercely for the things she believed in.

BASH: Yes, I mean, that -- it's such an -- all of the points that you just made are so important to remember as part of Senator Feinstein's legacy. But that last one, you know, people looking from the outside and think that that's a time gone by to be able to be -- to disagree without being disagreeable.

I know that that does still exist, it just doesn't really necessarily get as much of a spotlight as it maybe it should. You -- one of the things you mentioned, Senator, was the fact that she fought very hard to get the intelligence report about the enhanced interrogation, the torture report released.

She fought her own Democratic President Barack Obama, and she was chairman of the Senate -- as Senate Intelligence Committee, they were not happy about it. But she did it. She felt it was important for transparency for the American people.

COONS: Senator Feinstein believed deeply in democracy. She believed in the importance of openness of our citizens, our constituents, knowing what's happening. And that's a tough position to take as the chairman of the Intelligence Committee in a deep disagreement with the intelligence community over the conduct of a particular aspect of the war in Iraq and of the war on terror.

And it had significant consequences. I think that was, in some ways, among her finest moments here in the Senate, showing toughness and persistence in fighting for the prerogatives of the Senate. She also is largely responsible for passing the assault weapons ban, something that was unthinkable when she came here.

But because of her own personal experience, with the tragedy of the assassination of Harvey Milk that catapulted her to a position of leadership as mayor of San Francisco, she spoke movingly and repeatedly.

It was one of the very first things she talked to me about when I became a senator in a very gracious but forceful way, soliciting me to join as a co-sponsor of her attempt to reenact it. Something she never backed off from, was very engaged in and very purposeful about.

BASH: Senator Coons, I know you too have to get to the floor for --


BASH: -- for votes. I really appreciate you coming on and talking about your friend, Senator Feinstein.

COONS: Thank you.

BASH: Thank you.

And up next, Dianne Feinstein was nothing if not a badass. I have close look at her life and lasting impact in California, and here in Washington.



BASH: It started with a question back in December of 2014. You know your wife is a badass, right? That was a question I asked the husband of Senator Dianne Feinstein. He wasn't sure it was a compliment, but it was. And the question helped to form the foundation for a series of profiles about the barrier breaking women here in Washington.

The late senator was the only choice to go first. Senator Dianne Feinstein, badass women of Washington. This was 2017.


SEN. DIANNE FEINSTEIN (D), CALIFORNIA: The door to the office opened and he came in. I heard the door slam. I heard the shots. I smelled the cordite. He whisked by. I walked down the line of supervisor's offices and found Harvey Milk, put my finger in a bullet hole trying to get a pulse. It was the first person I'd ever seen shot to death. And that began a saga.

BASH (voice-over): I've covered Dianne Feinstein for many years and she rarely talks about that traumatic day 40 years ago. But looking back that tragedy put her on an unexpected path to becoming the icon she is now. From first female mayor of San Francisco to California's first female United States senator.

(on-camera): Probably fair to say most women graduating from Stanford in the 1950s were focused on finding a husband and having a family. You wanted to go into politics. Do people think you were crazy?

FEINSTEIN: Yes. The first time out, something must be wrong with her. She must have a bad marriage. Why is she doing this?

BASH (on-camera): People said that to you?

FEINSTEIN: Yes. Being a woman in our society even today is difficult. You know it in the press area. I know it in the political area.

BASH (voice-over): 47 years ago, Feinstein won a local election that eventually led her here.

(on-camera): The chair of the president of the Board of Supervisors in San Francisco. There are a lot of people who didn't think it was right for her to take the seat because she was a woman.

(voice-over): She ran for mayor twice in the 1970s but lost both times. Then tragedy put her in the job.

FEINSTEIN: I became mayor as a product of assassination of the mayor of being killed, and the first openly gay public official being killed by a friend and colleague of mine.

BASH (voice-over): That friend was Dan White who shot and killed Mayor George Moscone and Harvey Milk, one of the first openly gay elected officials in America.


(on-camera): This right here was Harvey Milk desk. This is where he sat. Dan White, the man who shot and killed him, sat right next to him.

I've seen reports that you've said that you always think maybe I could have stopped it.

FEINSTEIN: I was a friend of Dan's. And I tried, to some extent, to mentor him. And he was a former police officer, a former firefighter, very good looking, young, robust man, and I never really talked about this. Dan had resigned, and then one of the seat back.

And so he had an appointment with the mayor. And he walked into the office and he shot him a number of times.

Both Mayor Moscone and supervisor Harvey Milk had been shot and killed. The suspect, his supervisor, Dan White. That was the most painful lesson of division. And what I do is I really tried to bring people together, try to work out problems.

BASH (voice-over): Feinstein became acting mayor then was elected in her own right and served for a total of 10 years.

(on-camera): When you were mayor, and there was a fire over three alarms.

FEINSTEIN: I had a radio in my room, my bedroom. When a building would burn and everybody was out on the sidewalk, I went and introduced them to the Red Cross, they'll get to a place to stay.

BASH (voice-over): Politics was not gender neutral. Like the time a developer bet her that if he finished a project on time, she would have to wear a bathing suit in public. She took the bet and he won.

(on-camera): This is the picture.

FEINSTEIN: This is the bikini.

BASH (on-camera): Wow. I had say you rock back bathing suit pretty well.

FEINSTEIN: Yes, it was pretty covered.

BASH (voice-over): She not only kept that but hundreds of other mementos and pictures from her four decade career in a special room inside her San Francisco home.

FEINSTEIN: So there are a lot of stories here. This is the queen.

BASH (on-camera): Pope John Paul.


BASH (on-camera): Joe Montana.


BASH (voice-over): In 1984, she was in the running to be Walter Mondale's running mate. But he picked another woman, Geraldine Ferraro.

FEINSTEIN: The blonde or the brunette for vice president for Mondale. They thought I was going to get it.

BASH (on-camera): The blonde won out.

FEINSTEIN: Yes. This was going to be the cover --

BASH (on-camera): Is that, right.

FEINSTEIN: Yes. Didn't happen that way.

BASH (on-camera): Why didn't you ever run for president? FEINSTEIN: I don't know. I felt I'd never be elected. See, look how hard it is. Look at Hillary. I mean, look at what she's gone through.

BASH (on-camera): Yes. You've done hard before.

FEINSTEIN: Yes, I've done hard before, but it's not a bad thing being in the Senate.

BASH (voice-over): And she's done a lot that she's proud of. High on the list is gun control.

FEINSTEIN: Let me tell you, I've seen assassination. I've seen killing. I know what these guns can do.

BASH (voice-over): And she racked up a lot more first as a woman, first female member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, and first female chair of the Intelligence Committee.

FEINSTEIN: Hi, everybody.

BASH (voice-over): And I'll never forget that dramatic moment in 2014, when she defied President Obama, the leader of her own party by going to the Senate floor and releasing a torture report. Obama did not want public. It was an investigation that she oversaw. And she wanted the public to see it.

FEINSTEIN: History will judge us by our commitment to adjust society governed by law, and the willingness to face an ugly truth and say, never again.

There was some flak, yes.

BASH (on-camera): Well, yes, I mean, one of your colleagues from California, Republican Congressman Geoff Duncan said that you were as much a traitor to this country as Edward Snowden.

FEINSTEIN: Well, he had a bad day.

BASH (on-camera): But you, obviously, you know, you stood up and you did what you felt was right.

FEINSTEIN: Yes, that's right. And that's what we have to do. That's what I'm there to do. It's not always easy. It's hard.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: United States Senator Dianne Feinstein.

BASH (on-camera): People watching this, looking at you, will be shocked to know that you are the oldest serving U.S. Senator.

FEINSTEIN: Rub that in.

BASH (on-camera): I'm not. The opposite.

FEINSTEIN: Well, it's what I meant to do. And as long as the old been holds up --

I'm from the generation where we dropped under our desks.

BASH (on-camera): For people who are out there saying, I want to be Dianne Feinstein. I want to do what she did.

FEINSTEIN: Run, but prepare yourself. And so many times, talented young women go for the top first. You can't do that. Start young, earn your spurs. You don't drop out. You take defeat after defeat after defeat. But you keep going. And I really believe that.



BASH: As you just heard there, Senator Feinstein was always aware of her legacy but careful about letting others define her. Here she is right after she was first elected to the Senate in 1992.


FEINSTEIN: I think it is wrong to say a woman's vote. I won in California in a big state with 5.5 million votes. I won by 17 percent margin. I won among men, I won among women. I won in every age level, I won in every ethnic group.

Now, what that says is, that to me, the fact that I'm a woman is there, but it's incidental. I think people believe I can be an effective United States Senator.


BASH: Senator Dianne Feinstein dead at the age of 90, and being remembered all over the country, all over the world today with her remarkable legacy. May her memory be a blessing.

Thank you so much for joining us on INSIDE POLITICS today. "CNN NEWS CENTRAL" starts after a quick break.