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U.S. Select Committee on Intelligence chairwoman Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) speaks to members of the media after a hearing on the Benghazi attack last month. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)
The death of Hawaii Senator Daniel Inouye has unlocked the seniority door at the U.S. Senate.
California Senator Dianne Feinstein could jump committee chairs, putting her in a position to influence major legislation on gun control and immigration.
Feinstein currently serves as chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee, which meets behind closed doors and only speaks formally to the news media once year. She also sits on the Judiciary Committee, chaired by Vermont Senator Patrick Leahy.
But the death of Senator Inouye means there is an opening at the top of the Senate Appropriations Committee. Senator Leahy is next in line. Leahy said he'll decide Wednesday whether he wants to move over from Judiciary to Appropriations. And next in line at Judiciary is Dianne Feinstein.
Feinstein would be poised as Judiciary chair to champion two issues close to her heart: immigration and gun control.
Feinstein has sponsored several immigration bills - the Dream Act for undocumented college students and members of the military, a measure to speed up the backlong on visas and an agricultural workers program. But she’s also a strong proponent of comprehensive immigration reform.
Her political career was forged in large part by gun violence. Feinstein was president of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors in 1978 when former Supervisor Dan White shot and killed Mayor George Moscone and Supervisor Harvey Milk. She discovered Milk’s body, putting her finger through a bullet hole while trying to find a pulse. She calls it “one of the hardest moments, if not the hardest moment of my life.”
In 1993, as a U.S. Senator, Feinstein introduced legislation to ban the manufacture and sale of 19 types of military-style assault weapons, including UZIs and AK-47s. President Clinton signed it into law, but the ban expired a decade later. This week, Feinstein promised to reintroduce the ban in the new Congress in January.
As chair of the powerful Judiciary Committee, Feinstein would be in the right seat at the right time to advance both issues.