Newsom will appoint Emily’s List President Laphonza Butler to fill late Sen. Dianne Feinstein’s seat

WASHINGTON−California Gov. Gavin Newsom will appoint Laphonza Butler to fill the vacant seat left by the death of Sen. Dianne Feinstein, who passed away Friday at age 90, the governor’s spokesperson confirmed to USA TODAY.

Butler is the first Black woman and mother to lead Emily’s List, an organization that helps Democratic women win elections. She was also an adviser to Vice President Kamala Harris and is a former union organizer.

Politico first reported the development. Anthony York, the governor’s spokesperson, told the outlet Newsom is making his appointment “without putting limitations or preconditions on his pick running for the seat in 2024,” meaning Butler could join the candidates vying for Feinstein’s seat next year.

Feinstein, who spent more than 30 years in the Senate, suffered ongoing health issues prior to her death. She was hospitalized both in March for shingles – which required her to step away from Congress for nearly three months – and in August after a minor fall in her home. She’s also suffered from encephalitis and Ramsay Hunt Syndrome.

FILE - Laphonza Butler, president of EMILY's List, listens during a rally held by the Latino Victory Fund, Oct. 20, 2022, in Coral Gables, Fla. A spokesperson in California Gov. Gavin Newsom's office said on Sunday, Oct. 1, 2023, that he will name Butler to the Senate seat of the late Dianne Feinstein. (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky, File)

The decision to have Butler fill Feinstein’s seat comes as Newsom pledged to appoint a Black woman to the Senate if Feinstein were to resign in 2021 and made clear in an interview on NBC’s “Meet the Press” earlier this month that he wouldn’t appoint anyone running for Feinstein’s seat in the 2024 election.

“But you’re gonna abide by — it would be essentially a caretaker, an African-American woman?” NBC’s Chuck Todd asked to which Newsom replied “Uh We hope we never have to make this decision, but I abide by what I’ve said very publicly and on a consistent basis, yes.”

Rep. Barbara Lee, D-Calif., who is running for Feinstein’s seat, blasted Newsom for his remarks on X, the platform formerly known as Twitter.

“The idea that a Black woman should be appointed only as a caretaker to simply check a box is insulting to countless Black women across this country who have carried the Democratic Party to victory election after election,” Lee said.

The Congressional Black Caucus also urged Newsom to appoint Lee in a letter on Sunday.

After Kamala Harris’ rise to vice presidency in 2020, Newsom was pressured by Black and Latino political advocacy groups to pick a person of color to fill her vacant seat in the Senate. Harris was California’s first Black senator. He ended up choosing then California Secretary of State Alex Padilla in December of that year.

In a statement after Feinstein’s death, Newsom called her a “trailblazer U.S. Senator; an early voice for gun control; a leader in times of tragedy and chaos.”

“But to me, she was a dear friend, a lifelong mentor, and a role model not only for me, but to my wife and daughters for what a powerful, effective leader looks like,” Newsom said. 

“She was a political giant, whose tenacity was matched by her grace. She broke down barriers and glass ceilings, but never lost her belief in the spirit of political cooperation. And she was a fighter — for the city, the state and the country she loved.”

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