Black lawmakers praise Butler, don’t want her pitted against Lee

Black lawmakers praise Laphonza Butler, don’t want her pitted against Lee | The Hill

The appointment of Laphonza Butler to succeed the late Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) has been met with praise from Black leaders around the nation.

But as Butler takes her new position, Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) members are walking a fine line.

They want to maintain support for both Butler and California Rep. Barbara Lee (D), who was running for the seat in 2024 before Butler’s appointment, without pitting the two Black women against each other. 

California Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) has made it clear that Butler is not caretaker appointment, but the new senator, who was sworn in Tuesday, hasn’t decided if she’ll run for a full term.

Butler is making history as the nation’s first openly gay Black female to serve in the Senate.

Rep. Ayanna Pressley (D-Mass.) said Butler’s identity “will bring an important lens to the chamber at a time when both the Black and LGBTQ+ communities are under assault nationwide.”

But Pressley, a CBC member who endorsed Lee in the California Senate race in May, maintained her support for the longtime representative. 

“Congresswoman Lee is a friend, mentor, and partner in good who has been an effective leader in the work of eradicating poverty, advancing peace and diplomacy, ensuring reproductive justice, and more,” Pressley said. “I have been fortunate to know her for more than a decade and see up close her unwavering commitment to advancing the bold, progressive policy our communities deserve. She is qualified to lead, her voice is deeply needed, and she is exactly the Senator California deserves.”

Rep. Steven Horsford (D-Nev.), the chairman of the CBC, released a statement welcoming Butler to the group as its 59th member. 

“As the first lesbian Black woman in the U.S. Senate, Laphonza will bring an important perspective to the upper house at a time when the rights of women and the LGBTQ+ community are under attack,” Horsford said Monday. 

But the congratulatory message followed a letter Horsford and the CBC sent to Newsom on Sunday that said Lee is “the only person with the courage, the vision, and the record to eradicate poverty, face down the fossil fuel industry, defend our democracy, and tirelessly advance the progressive agenda.”

Newsom had promised to appoint a Black woman if the opportunity arose, but faced a backlash after announcing he would not appoint Lee, who began campaigning in February along with several other prominent Democrats when Feinstein said she would not seek re-election. 

At the time, Black leaders, including Lee, were particularly angered by the idea that the appointee would simply be a “caretaker” until a replacement was voted in.

On Tuesday, Newsom said it is Butler’s choice to decide if she would like to seek a full term. 

There is already a crowded field to succeed Feinstein. In addition to Lee, California Democratic Reps. Adam Schiff and Katie Porter are seeking the seat.

Schiff, who has the support of former Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), is leading in the polls, while Porter comes in a strong second. 

Horsford held firm in his support for Lee on Tuesday but emphasized that Butler has not yet announced if she will seek a full term.  

“It would be her choice, but we have Barbara Lee, obviously, who’s announced and who we are imminently supportive of, because of her qualifications,” Horsford told The Hill. 

Horsford said that he does not buy into the idea there could be any animosity between the two women — or the CBC and Butler. 

“I don’t want to project something that hasn’t been determined. It’s her decision. Regardless, I believe we will have a Black woman serving us in the United States Senate. I believe that person is Barbara Lee,” he said. 

“And I’m glad that Senator-designate Laphonza Butler will be able to start the position today, ready to protect women’s rights, protect democracy, help us get some of these federal judges through the process and continue to fight for workers, which is what her legacy has been about.”

It’s no surprise the CBC is supporting Lee, who once served as chairwoman of the caucus. As co-chairwoman of the Policy and Steering Committee, she’s also the highest ranking African American woman appointed to Democratic leadership. She’s served 25 years in Congress after an extensive stint in state politics. 

Rep. Jennifer McClellan (D), who also made history this year as the first Black woman elected to represent Virginia in Congress, said she thinks there could be more than one Black woman in the next Senate, given two other Democratic candidates.

“I’m confident that in the 119th Congress, there’ll be a Black woman representing California and she’ll be joined by Lisa Blunt Rochester from Delaware and Angela Alsobrooks from Maryland,” McClellan said. “So excited that we finally will have representation again.”

Though Butler’s appointment has the potential to shake up the California Senate race, it is also part of a larger push to see Black women in positions of power. 

“I honestly think that it is a good day in America when you have two extremely qualified, highly prepared, and beloved Black women in a position to represent their state in the U.S. Senate,” said Adrianne Shropshire, executive director of BlackPAC, where Butler once was a board member.

“We also know that with the numbers of Black women who have already declared their candidacy for U.S. Senate, including Reps. Barbara Lee and Lisa Blunt Rochester, the ranks of the CBC will be expanded on the strength of Black women being elected to the US Senate in 2024.”

Butler becomes the only sitting Black female senator, and only the third Black female elected to the upper chamber. 

That, Horsford said, is where the focus should be.

“I want today to be about celebrating the fact that we have a Black woman back in the United States Senate, as we should, and that we’re making history by having the first openly Black lesbian appointed to Congress, and we’re now up to 59 members of the CBC, representing over approximately 20 million Black Americans, and we’re going to continue to fight for the people, all the people that we represent,” Horsford said. 


Adam Schiff

Ayanna Pressley

Ayanna Pressley

Barbara Lee

Barbara Lee



Dianne Feinstein

Gavin Newsom

Katie Porter

Laphonza Butler

Laphonza Butler

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