Feinstein was voting in favor of a short-term spending bill intended to avert a government shutdown. She was escorted onto the Senate floor but walked on her own power to cast her vote, according to footage captured by CSPAN. She then missed two subsequent votes on Thursday afternoon.
Feinstein’s office confirmed Friday morning that she died in D.C. on Thursday night but didn’t share a cause of death. She was hospitalized briefly in August after a fall, and had also been dealing with complications from a serious bout of shingles that kept her away from the Senate for three months earlier this year.
Feinstein, who was the first woman elected to the U.S. Senate from California and the first female mayor of San Francisco, had kept details of her health largely under wraps this year from both her staff and the public.
Absences in the Senate caused by her health had led both Republicans and Democrats to call on her to step down. She’d been photographed using a wheelchair to get around Capitol Hill, but video from her final vote—which was captured around noon—showed she was still capable of walking on her own.
“Senator Feinstein never backed away from a fight for what was just and right,” her chief of staff, James Sauls, wrote in a statement on Friday. “She was always willing to work with anyone, even those she disagreed with, if it meant bettering the lives of Californians or the betterment of our nation.”
Feinstein was the longest-serving woman in the Senate and was the oldest sitting member of Congress. She’d consecutively held her seat since 1992, winning re-election five times. She was the first woman to chair the Senate’s Rules and Administration Committee and the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence.
Feinstein was a passionate campaigner on issues ranging from gun control to environmental protection. She turned her promises into substantive legislation—namely the landmark Federal Assault Weapons Ban in 1994, which was written by Feinstein and created a decade-long restriction on many semi-automatic weapons.
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) choked back tears on the Senate floor as he spoke about Feinstein on Friday, saying “America is a better place” because of her.
“Dianne’s impact extended far beyond the Senate floor and far beyond politics itself,” he said, “so today we grieve.”