Updated Feb 15, 2023 - Politics & Policy

Sen. Dianne Feinstein won't seek re-election in 2024

Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) inside the U.S. Capitol in November 2022.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein at the U.S. Capitol in November 2022. Photo: Drew Angerer/Getty Images

Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) said Tuesday she will not seek re-election in 2024.

Why it matters: The announcement marks the beginning of the end of more than three decades in the Senate and spurs a free-for-all among ambitious would-be successors for a rare open Senate seat in safely Democratic California.

Driving the news: "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.

  • She said she will focus her energy in her last two years in Congress on pushing legislation, specifically on gun violence, stating, “Even with a divided Congress, we can still pass bills that will improve lives."
  • On Capitol Hill, she told Axios: "The time has come. It’s not till the end of next year, so don’t hold your breath. [But] there are times for all things under the sun, and I think that will be the right time."

What they're saying: Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.), one of the House Democrats running for Feinstein's seat, said in a statement: "Dianne Feinstein is one of the finest legislators we’ve ever known. From the torture report, a dogged pursuit of gun safety, and championship of LGBTQ+ rights, her body of work defines her legacy."

  • "Feinstein has had a remarkable career serving the people of California," Rep. Katie Porter (D-Calif.), another contender, said on Twitter. "She created a path for women in politics that I am proud to follow. I thank the Senator for her leadership and appreciate all that she has accomplished for our state."
  • Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.) also plans to jump in the race. In a statement praising Feinstein on Tuesday, she said, "I know there are questions about the Senate race in 2024, which I will address soon."
  • Feinstein says she's not yet ready to make an endorsement. "I'll talk about that later. I don't have anybody in mind right now," she told reporters at the Capitol on Tuesday, adding that she is likely to make a decision in "a couple months."

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) said at a press conference that Feinstein broke the news first to her colleagues in a "heartfelt, teary" address to the Senate Democratic Caucus lunch on Tuesday and received a "standing ovation that lasted minutes and minutes and minutes — one of the longest I've ever seen."

  • "We're all glad she'll be remaining with us in the Senate," he said. "She's a legend."
  • Schumer later tweeted: "When she came to the Senate, there were only 2 women senators. Today there are 25 serving — all of whom stand in some small part on her shoulders."

The context: The 89-year-old, five-term senator is the oldest member of the Senate and has a long and complicated legacy. Her ability to serve has come into question in recent years amid reports of her declining memory.

  • She's bowed out from several leadership positions in the last two years, including Senate Judiciary Committee chair and Senate president pro tempore — which is third in the presidential line of succession.
  • Feinstein was confused when speaking to reporters on Tuesday as to whether the statement announcing her retirement had been put out. A spokesperson told Axios she “approved it going out today, just confusion on timing.”
  • “The senator was out of the office for votes, a meeting, lunch and more votes when the announcement was sent,” the spokesperson added.

The backdrop: Feinstein stepped into the national spotlight in 1978 as a member of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors, becoming the city's first female mayor after the murders of Mayor George Moscone and fellow supervisor and legendary LGBTQ+ rights figure Harvey Milk.

  • She was elected to the Senate in 1992 — dubbed the "Year of the Woman" after the election of four female Democratic senators — and authored the 1994 assault weapons ban.
  • Feinstein served as chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee from 2009 to 2015, leading a sweeping investigation into the CIA's post-9/11 torture program and later joining the late Sen. John McCain (R-Arizona) to offer a legislative amendment banning so-called "enhanced interrogation techniques."

Editor's note: This story has been updated with additional details throughout.

Go deeper