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US Sen. Dianne Feinstein remembered as trailblazer by Pennsylvania's senators

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U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California, a centrist Democrat and champion of liberal causes who was elected to the Senate in 1992 and broke gender barriers throughout her long career in local and national politics, has died. She was 90.

Feinstein died on Thursday night at her home in Washington, D.C., her office said on Friday. 

Pennsylvania's two senators, Democrats Sens. Bob Casey and John Fetterman, released statements following her death. Both called Feinstein a trailblazer.

Casey noted her achievements as the first woman mayor of San Francisco, a role she took on after Mayor George Moscone was gunned down alongside Supervisor Harvey Milk at City Hall by Dan White, a disgruntled former supervisor, in 1978. Feinstein found Milk's body. She later went on to become a U.S. senator.

"At a time when only six women served in this body, Dianne fought fiercely for the issues she cared about and she was not afraid to take on tough fights, from standing up to the gun lobby to conducting groundbreaking oversight of the CIA. At her core, Senator Feinstein was a caring and effective lawmaker," Casey's statement said. "She rolled up her sleeves to get things done and was always focused on how her work would improve the lives of the people of California." 

Under Feinstein's leadership, the intelligence committee conducted a wide-ranging, five-year investigation into CIA interrogation techniques during President George W. Bush's administration, including waterboarding of terrorism suspects at secret overseas prisons. The resulting 6,300-page "torture report" concluded among other things that waterboarding and other "enhanced interrogation techniques" did not provide key evidence in the hunt for bin Laden. A 525-page executive summary was released in late 2014, but the rest of the report has remained classified.

Fetterman said, "Senator Feinstein was a true trailblazer in American politics who led on issues like gun violence prevention and LGBTQ rights."

Opening the Senate floor, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer announced that "earlier this morning, we lost a giant in the Senate."

"Dianne Feinstein was one of the most amazing people who ever graced the Senate, who ever graced the country," Schumer said, his voice cracking. "As the nation mourns this tremendous loss, we know how many lives she impacted and how many glass ceilings she shattered along the way."

President Joe Biden, who served with Feinstein for years in the Senate, called her "a pioneering American," a "true trailblazer" and a "cherished friend."

California Gov. Gavin Newsom will appoint a temporary replacement, and there is sure to be a spirited battle to succeed her.

Feinstein, the oldest sitting U.S. senator, was a passionate advocate for liberal priorities important to her state -- including environmental protection, reproductive rights and gun control -- but was also known as a pragmatic lawmaker who reached out to Republicans and sought middle ground.

Her death came after a bout of shingles sidelined her for more than two months earlier this year — an absence that drew frustration from her most liberal critics and launched an unsuccessful attempt by Democrats to temporarily replace her on the Senate Judiciary Committee. When she returned to the Senate in May, she was frail and using a wheelchair, voting only occasionally.

On Friday morning, her Senate desk was draped in black and topped with a vase of white roses. Senators gave tearful tributes as members of the California House delegation stood in the back of the chamber and former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi sat in the gallery with Feinstein's daughter, Katherine.

Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell was one of several Republicans who gave tributes to the Democratic icon, calling her his friend. "Dianne was a trailblazer, and her beloved home state of California and our entire nation are better for her dogged advocacy and diligent service," McConnell said.

In addition to her daughter, Feinstein has a granddaughter, Eileen, and three stepchildren.

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