Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) on Tuesday announced that she will not seek a sixth term in office and will retire from the Senate at the end of 2024, officially creating an open primary battle to replace the trailblazing senator.
“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.
“I campaigned in 2018 on several priorities for California and the nation: preventing and combating wildfires, mitigating the effects of record-setting drought, responding to the homelessness crisis, and ensuring all Americans have access to affordable, high-quality health care. Congress has enacted legislation on all of these topics over the past several years, but more needs to be done — and I will continue these efforts,” she added.
Feinstein, 89, has been subject to critical reports in recent years over her mental acuity, but defended herself against those claims, citing the death of her husband, Richard Blum, last year as a chief distraction.
However, signs of her declining mental acuity were clear on Tuesday. After a reporter asked her what message she has for her Senate colleagues, Feinstein asked why she would have a message for them.
“About your not seeking reelection,” the reporter asked.
“Well, I haven’t made that decision. I haven’t released anything,” Feinstein said.
A Feinstein staffer then interjected, telling her that they put out a press release with her retirement statement.
“You put out the statement?” she asked, adding a few seconds later, “I should’ve known they put it out.”
“It is what it is. The time is come,” Feinstein continued.
The five-term senator is a groundbreaking woman in American political history.
She, along with former Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), was the first woman elected to the Senate from the Golden State. She is also the longest-serving woman in the history of the Senate, having served atop two committees — Intelligence and Rules — and authored the assault weapons ban in 1994.
Feinstein also holds the distinction of having won the most votes in any single Senate election in history, having raked in 7.8 million votes in 2012.
Prior to her Senate service, she was mayor of San Francisco for a decade.
Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) on Tuesday called her “a legend” and “an amazing person.”
“She’s a legend. A legend in California as the first woman senator. A legend in this Senate, she was the leader on so many different issues,” he said.
Schumer also said Feinstein at the Democrats’ caucus lunch “got a standing ovation that lasted minutes and minutes and minutes, one of the longest I’ve ever seen, which shows the love our caucus, and our country, have for this wonderful leader and legend.”
Feinstein, the oldest sitting senator, has long been expected to depart at the end of her current term, having rolled back her workload and responsibilities in recent years.
She stepped aside as the leading Democrat atop the Senate Judiciary Committee in late 2020, a move that followed intense criticism over her handling of the confirmations of Justice Brett Kavanaugh and Justice Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court.
Feinstein also declined to take on the position of Senate president pro tempore, usually reserved for the most senior member of the party in power — Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.), the second-longest tenured Senate Democrat, filled that role after former Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) retired last year.
In addition, Feinstein did not show any indication that a reelection bid was in the offing based on her fundraising in recent months. According to her most recent FEC filing, the California Democrat raised $600 in the final three months of 2022 and has only $10,000 in the bank.
She said late last year that no matter her future plans, she would not resign before the end of her term. If she has a change of heart and decides to do so, California Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) has said that he will appoint a Black woman to fill the seat.
A lack of earlier announcements about her future, however, did not stop candidates from launching their own Senate bids in California. Rep. Katie Porter (D-Calif.) announced her official bid in early January, while Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.), fresh off being removed from the House Intelligence Committee, joined the race weeks later. Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) threw her support behind Schiff, assuming Feinstein sidestepped a campaign of her own.
Feinstein on Tuesday told reporters she would make an endorsement “probably in a couple of months.” The state’s other senator, Alex Padilla (D), said he would remain neutral.
The state’s jungle primary, likely to be held in summer of 2024, also means that two Democrats may make it to the general election that November. That was the case when Vice President Harris won her seat in 2016 and Feinstein won reelection in 2018.
Updated at 3:13 p.m.