LOS ANGELES — California Governor Gavin Newsom has officially announced his decision to appoint Laphonza Butler, a Democratic strategist and former adviser to Kamala Harris’ presidential campaign, to fill the vacant U.S. Senate seat left by the late Sen. Dianne Feinstein, according to a spokesman in his office on Sunday.
Newsom had made a commitment to appoint a Black woman in the event that Feinstein's seat became available, and he has fulfilled that promise by selecting Butler. However, there was some pressure from Black politicians and advocacy groups to choose Rep. Barbara Lee, a prominent congresswoman who is already running for the seat.
Senator Feinstein passed away last Thursday after battling various illnesses. Butler is currently the leader of Emily’s List, a political organization that supports Democratic women candidates who advocate for abortion rights. She also has a background as a labor leader with SEIU 2015, a powerful force in California politics.
Although Butler currently resides in Maryland, according to her Emily’s List biography, she has not yet responded to requests for comments regarding her appointment. A spokesperson from Newsom's office, who wished to remain anonymous, confirmed to The Associated Press that Newsom has indeed selected Butler for the position.
With Democrats holding a slim majority in the Senate at 51-49, excluding Feinstein’s seat, Newsom's prompt appointment will provide the Democratic caucus with additional flexibility in close votes, particularly on nominations that face opposition from Republicans. It is expected that Butler could be sworn in as early as Tuesday evening, when the Senate reconvenes.
Feinstein, the oldest member of Congress as well as the longest-serving woman in the Senate, passed away at the age of 90 on Friday after battling various health issues. In February, she had announced that she would not seek reelection in 2024. Lee, along with Democratic U.S. Reps. Katie Porter and Adam Schiff, is among several prominent Democrats competing for the Senate seat. Newsom stated that he refrained from choosing any of these candidates in order to prevent them from gaining an unfair advantage in the race.
California Governor Considers Potential Candidates for U.S. Senate Seat
The California governor, Gavin Newsom, is currently evaluating potential candidates to fill the vacant U.S. Senate seat left by the late Dianne Feinstein. Despite rumors of involvement from the governor, his spokesperson clarified that he did not specifically ask anyone to refrain from entering the race. With the December 8 deadline for candidates to file approaching, the political landscape in California is brimming with anticipation.
One potential candidate receiving significant attention is Jennifer Butler. While she has never held elected office, Butler possesses a wealth of experience within California politics. Formerly a senior adviser to Kamala Harris's presidential campaign in 2020, Butler worked alongside other influential strategists who have served Newsom and various prominent state Democrats. During her career, she also gained valuable experience in the private sector with Airbnb.
Following Feinstein's passing, Butler paid tribute to the iconic figure, highlighting her significant contributions to women in politics nationwide. Butler leads Emily's List, an organization dedicated to supporting Democratic women who advocate for abortion rights. Given the U.S. Supreme Court's recent decision overturning women's constitutional right to abortion, this issue has become a rallying point for many Democrats.
Newsom, who previously selected Alex Padilla as a replacement for Harris when she assumed the role of vice president, is no stranger to choosing U.S. senators. His string of appointments in late 2020 and early 2021 solidified his reputation as a kingmaker among California's ambitious Democrats.
While the final decision lies with Newsom, the seat is expected to remain in Democratic hands come the 2024 election. Democrats have maintained their grip on statewide elections in the liberal-leaning state since 2006, with voter registration favoring the party by an almost two-to-one margin over Republicans.