Dianne Feinstein, the oldest member of the United States Senate, has said she will not seek reelection in 2024, paving the way for a highly anticipated election between Democrats eyeing her seat in California.
Feinstein, 89, said on Tuesday that she intends to finish the rest of her term to “accomplish as much for California” as she can before retiring.
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“Even with a divided Congress, we can still pass bills that will improve lives. Each of us was sent here to solve problems,” Feinstein said in a statement.
“That’s what I’ve done for the last 30 years, and that’s what I plan to do for the next two years. My thanks to the people of California for allowing me to serve them.”
Feinstein was elected in 1992 as the first woman to represent California in the US Senate. She quickly rose to become a key figure in the Democratic Party, playing prominent roles in key committees and legislation.
In 2014, her office led efforts to release a report that detailed a torture programme run by the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) that detained individuals across the world in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks.
But the senator’s career has been derailed in recent years by media reports that she is suffering from short-term memory loss, spurring claims that she may be mentally unfit to serve. But the senator has consistently defended herself as an effective legislator.
“She’s a legend — a legend in California as the first woman senator, a legend in this Senate,” Majority Leader Chuck Schumer told reporters on Tuesday.
“She was the leader on so many different issues: assault weapons, the environment, women’s rights and so much else. She approached everything studiously and carefully. But she had passion that accompanied her detailed knowledge of the facts.”
In 1993, Feinstein authored a bill banning assault weapons that was signed into law a year later. The ban expired in 2004, but Democrats have been calling for it to be renewed amid frequent mass shootings.
California Representative Nancy Pelosi, the former speaker of the House of Representatives, praised Feinstein on Tuesday, saying that the senator’s record is “among the finest in history”.
“Senator Feinstein has not only accomplished a great deal but is determined to do even more in the last two years of her term. All Americans continue to be blessed by her committed leadership,” Pelosi said in a statement.
Feinstein’s decision not to run puts a rare, open Senate seat up for grabs in a solidly Democratic state. Several Democratic House members of various ideological leanings are said to be interested in succeeding Feinstein.
Progressive Congresswoman Katie Porter and Adam Schiff, the former chair of the House intelligence committee, have already announced their candidacy for the seat.
Their House colleague Barbara Lee has also signalled that she will run.