Sen. Dianne Feinstein attends a business hearing of the Senate...

Sen. Dianne Feinstein attends a business hearing of the Senate Judiciary Committee on Capitol Hill May 11 in Washington. Credit: Getty Images/Drew Angerer

America has lost a leader of uncommon grace, courage, and independence with the passing of Sen. Dianne Feinstein. In a time when a fundamental principle of Congress working together for the common good seems to be lost or disdained, its members today would do well to reflect on what can be accomplished when we put the interests of the nation above partisan advantage.

As the Republican senator from New York who sat across the aisle from my Democratic colleague from California, I had the privilege of working with Sen. Feinstein on any number of issues. From her support of mass transit aid for New York to our joint efforts to fund a strong national defense, we found issues and opportunities upon which we could agree while respectfully differing on a broad range of other issues then before the Senate.

Typical was our shared sponsorship of legislation designed to generate additional dollars for cancer research by creating the breast cancer research U.S. postage stamp. Our legislation mandated that a portion of the proceeds of sale go toward breast cancer research. Some 70% of funds raised were directed to the National Cancer Institute and 30% to the Breast Cancer Research Program of the Department of Defense. It has since raised over $78 million toward critical research. It was typical of the quiet, almost unnoticed work of legislators who shared an agenda of supporting programs for the public good, irrespective of our own party label.

Sen. Feinstein gave me good advice at that time that still resonates with me. She said, “Passing good legislation sometimes involves more give than take, and if both sides have that attitude, both sides win.”

She and I also shared an unwavering focus on constituent service. One Navy veteran in San Francisco told a reporter while waiting to write in her office’s condolence book, “If you had a problem, someone always called you back … she never blew me off.” That kind of staff work is the direct result of how a senator manages his or her office. It revealed that being the chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee didn’t distract her from the grassroots obligation she believed she had to her constituents. 

In her passing, my other Senate colleague from across the aisle, now President Joe Biden, stated that Sen. Feinstein “turned passion into purpose” in supporting causes she felt crucial to the future of the republic. It was passion with a conscience, with an appreciation of compromise, and with consideration of another point of view.

Among Dianne Feinstein's many accomplishments during a distinguished public career, in the end, none more aptly demonstrated her commitment to public service over political gain than her willingness to work across party lines for the national good. She did so despite criticism from members of her own party that she was “too moderate” in pursuing issues. Yet, she became enormously effective in pursuing “moderation” while confronting a Senate that was overwhelming male. She once famously said, “Toughness doesn’t have to come in a pinstriped suit.” One political commentator accurately described her as less a centrist and more a pragmatist in her ability to form alliances to advance her agenda.

Sen. Feinstein was a forceful advocate for what she believed in, leaving a legacy that historians will parse for decades to come. Her actions may also serve to remind a deliberative body currently engaged in harsh partisan battles that the vast number of American voters will recoil from actions by either party that lead to our democracy consuming itself in the fires of extremism.

This guest essay reflects the views of former U.S. Sen. Alfonse D'Amato.

This guest essay reflects the views of former U.S. Sen. Alfonse D'Amato.

Newsday LogoYour Island. Your Community. Your News.Digital AccessOnly 25¢for 5 months