Political allegiances are being shored up in the immediate aftermath of the U.S. Senate appointment in California after longtime Sen. Dianne Feinstein’s death left a vacancy in Congress’ upper chamber.
California Gov. Gavin Newsom on Sunday night named EMILY’s List President Laphonza Butler as Feinstein’s replacement, which will make her the third-ever Black woman to serve in the U.S. Senate. The selection also made good on Newsom’s promise to appoint a Black woman while also defying calls to pick Rep. Barbara Lee, an existing candidate for the seat for which Feinstein had already decided against seeking reelection.
Lee made no secret about wanting Newsom to appoint her, something which the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) also lobbied for to no avail. Both congratulated Butler on Monday, but Lee made it clear that she still expects to be elected in the race next year – a sentiment also expressed by fellow CBC member and Massachusetts Congresswoman Ayanna Pressley, who effectively gave Butler an expiration date on her Senate appointment.
“Congrats @LaphonzaB on your historic appointment to the Senate,” Pressley posted on the social media app formerly known as Twitter.
But in her next thought, Pressley effectively predicted Butler would not have the same job a little more than a year from now.
“I look forward to your partnership & to having two incredible Black women serve consecutively when we elect @BarbaraLeeForCA as the next Senator from California,” Pressley added.
Pressley’s social post was reminiscent of one from Lee hours earlier.
Lee wrote of Butler that she’s looking forward to “working closely with her to deliver for the Golden State” before adding that she remains “singularly focused on winning my campaign for Senate.”
Lee then drew attention to her own 25 years of experience on Capitol Hill as something that makes her the best candidate for the job.
“CA deserves an experienced Senator who will deliver on progressive priorities,” Lee continued. “That’s exactly what I’m running to do.”
Lee and Pressley have a history of working together on legislation surrounding reproductive justice and fighting racism.
The CBC, for its part, took a decidedly different tack one day after Chairman and Nevada Rep. Steven Horsford on Sunday urged Newsom in a letter to Newsom to appoint Lee, who he said was “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.”
When Newsom said weeks ago before Feinstein’s death that any “interim appointment” of a Black woman for a Senate vacancy would not be an existing candidate, Lee called the notion “insulting” and compared it to tokenism.
“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 responded at the time. “Black women deserve more than a participation trophy. We need a seat at the table.”
To be sure, the appointment of Butler is historic on multiple fronts.
On Tuesday, Butler is expected to be sworn into office by Vice President Kamala Harris, an alumnus of the California Senate and the most recent Black woman to serve in that capacity. In the process, Butler won’t only become just the third-ever Black woman to be a U.S. Senator but she will also be the first Black lesbian in the U.S. Senate at a time when LGBTQ+ rights are under attack.
Not to be outdone, Butler, after she is sworn into office, can ultimately announce her intention to join the crowded field of candidates running for U.S. Senate in California.
The deadline to file paperwork to be a candidate is on Dec. 8.
“She won’t let someone force her into a decision that she’s not ready to make,” a source told Politico.
As of Monday, there were just two Black U.S. Senators: Democrat Cory Booker of New Jersey and South Carolina Sen. Tim Scott of South Carolina.
On Tuesday, Butler will become the third and the latest Black woman to be a U.S. Senator following Harris and Carol Moseley Braun of Illinois.
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