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Former Sen. Boxer remembers Sen. Dianne Feinstein who died last week

LEILA FADEL, HOST:

In her final months, Democratic Senator Dianne Feinstein was criticized for her unwillingness to step aside despite her health issues. But that was part of who she was, her friend and colleague former Senator Barbara Boxer told me - a person so committed to making sure the job got done. Boxer worked alongside Feinstein for two dozen years. And in her career of firsts - the first woman to serve as mayor of San Francisco, represent California in the Senate and preside over a presidential inauguration - Boxer says Feinstein paved a path for other women in a male-dominated political world.

I just wanted to start by saying, I'm so sorry for your loss. I know you were close, and this must be hard news.

BARBARA BOXER: Very hard. But she had a hard year. And, you know, it was made hard in a way that didn't have to be. It became impossible for her once the Republicans declared they would not reappoint someone to that vacancy should she have stepped away. And she felt that incredible responsibility to get judges out of the Judiciary Committee. So I blame them a great deal for putting that heavy burden on her.

FADEL: Thursday, Senator Feinstein voted on the Senate floor, and that's despite her health challenges that kept her away from office earlier this year. What does that say about who she was?

BOXER: She told me very clearly that to her, her work was a calling, and that's how she viewed it. And that did not surprise me - literally hours before she passed away, she was voting.

FADEL: Incredible. When was the last time you spoke with her?

BOXER: I'd say it was about a month or six weeks ago. It was really something else because I called to find out how she was. And I kept saying, how are you? How are you? And she kept saying, tell me about you. What's going on? She did not want to talk about her health. She just wanted to plow on.

FADEL: I'm looking at a picture right now of the night you both made history in 1992...

BOXER: Yeah.

FADEL: ...The first woman from California elected to the Senate. You also became the first women from the same state to serve concurrently. Your hands are clasps, your arms in the air. Can you tell me about that night?

BOXER: Oh, gosh. That was an extraordinary moment. Senator Feinstein, she had been the mayor of San Francisco, so she really was a shoo-in for her seat. And I was a long, long, long shot. But she literally grabbed my hand and figuratively grabbed my hand. And we went all over the state together. And we ran in tandem. And we faced a heck of a lot of prejudice. People would say, well, I could vote for one woman, but I can't vote for two.

FADEL: Wow.

BOXER: Well, I could vote for one Jewish woman, but not for two. And we took it with a sense of humor. I'd say, well, did you ever have a problem voting for two Protestant men?

FADEL: (Laughter).

BOXER: Was that ever an issue? And Dianne had her famous line. She'd say, 2% may be good for the fat content of milk, but it's not good for the U.S. Senate. And women only have 2%. And I'm not being overly humble when I say this. Without Anita Hill and without Dianne Feinstein, I would not have made it to the Senate. But we knew we were doing something important. And indeed, after that, state after state elected two women, and now the Senate is about 25% women, hopefully on the way to 50%, which is where it should go.

FADEL: If you could talk about her legacy, how she changed the political landscape for women...

BOXER: Sure.

FADEL: ...Not just in Washington, but outside the Capitol as well.

BOXER: Sure. I think Dianne's legacy is really twofold. She was a role model that said to women, you can do this work. And then she had, of course, in the Senate, the work we did, the bills we passed. She passed the first and only assault weapons ban. The only regret is it expired in 10 years. But in those 10 years, believe me, it saved countless lives.

FADEL: I saw that you said you were really shocked to hear the news, despite...

BOXER: Yeah.

FADEL: ...Senator Feinstein's health condition. If you could talk about hearing that news and what - where that shock came from.

BOXER: You know, it - in my deep recesses of my mind, I think I thought she'd just go on until, you know, the election and a new senator came in, and she'd be there to say good luck. It sounds funny. It's - but it's just knowing her grit, you know, that I thought she'd hang in there.

FADEL: That's Barbara Boxer, former Democratic senator from California, and colleague and friend to Senator Feinstein. Thank you so much for your time.

BOXER: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

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