Newsom picks Laphonza Butler to fill Feinstein's Senate seat

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California Gov. Gavin Newsom has chosen Laphonza Butler to fill the Senate seat left vacant by the death of California Sen. Dianne Feinstein, he announced early Monday on X, the platform formerly known as Twitter.

Butler is the president of EMILYs List, an organization devoted to electing Democratic women who support abortion rights. She previously served as a senior campaign adviser to Kamala Harris during her 2020 presidential campaign and has a long history as a labor leader.

She will be sworn in Tuesday at the U.S. Capitol in Washington by Vice President Harris.

"As we mourn the enormous loss of Sen. Feinstein, the very freedoms she fought for — reproductive freedom, equal protection, and safety from gun violence — have never been under greater assault," Newsom wrote. "Laphonza has spent her entire career fighting for women and girls and has been a fierce advocate for working people."

He also noted, "She will make history — becoming the first Black lesbian to openly serve in the U.S. Senate."

Butler was the first woman of color to lead EMILYs List when she joined the organization in 2021. She also previously served as director of public policy at Airbnb.

EMILYs List President Laphonza Butler on March 7, 2023. / Credit: Araya Doheny/Getty Images for EMILYs List
EMILYs List President Laphonza Butler on March 7, 2023. / Credit: Araya Doheny/Getty Images for EMILYs List

"I'm honored to accept Gov. @GavinNewsom's nomination to be U.S. Senator for a state I have made my home and honored by his trust in me to serve the people of California and this great nation," Butler tweeted Monday.

"No one will ever measure up to the legacy of Sen. Dianne Feinstein, but I will do my best to honor her legacy and leadership by committing to work for women and girls, workers and unions, struggling parents, and all of California. I am ready to serve."

Butler's EMILYs List biography had said, "She lives in Maryland with her partner Neneki Lee and their daughter Nylah." But that sentence was no longer there when checked by CBS News overnight. Maryland voting records seen by CBS News show a Laphonza Butler of Silver Spring registered to vote in that state.

The Associated Press reports that Newsom spokesperson Izzy Gardon said Butler owns a home in California. She is expected to reregister to vote in California before being sworn in, according to the AP, which adds that the ceremony could be held as soon as Tuesday evening, when the Senate returns to session.

Butler didn't immediately respond to a request for comment from CBS News.

Feinstein, who was 90 years old, had about 15 months left in her term at the time of her death last week. Butler's speedy appointment will help bolster the Democrats' narrow majority in the Senate as Congress continues to work on longer-term funding for the government after a last-minute deal temporarily averted a shutdown over the weekend.

Politico first reported Butler's appointment.

Earlier this month on NBC's "Meet the Press," Newsom said he would abide by his pledge to appoint a Black woman to Feinstein's post, while adding that he hoped he'd never have to make that decision. But Newsom also said he wouldn't fill the seat with one of the Democrats vying to succeed Feinstein in the 2024 election, calling such a move "completely unfair to the Democrats that have worked their tail off."

There is no precondition that this must be a temporary replacement, so Butler could run for a full term in 2024. Complicating matters, in addition to next year's scheduled Democratic Senate primary, a special election is expected to be held for California voters to choose who finishes out the last few months of Feinstein's term.

Rep. Barbara Lee, Rep. Adam Schiff and Rep. Katie Porter are among those who jumped into the 2024 race after Feinstein announced earlier this year that she would not run again. It was not immediately clear if any of them, or Butler, would also enter the expected special election for the remainder of Feinstein's term.

In a post on X, Lee said, "I wish @LaphonzaB well and look forward to working closely with her to deliver for the Golden State. I am singularly focused on winning my campaign for Senate. CA deserves an experienced Senator who will deliver on progressive priorities. That's exactly what I'm running to do."

Schiff tweeted, "With the passing of Senator Feinstein — a giant of the Senate and a trailblazer — I'm glad the Governor acted quickly. I want to offer my congratulations to Laphonza Butler on her appointment. I look forward to working closely with her to get things done for California."

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