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Gavin Newsom picks Laphonza Butler to fill Dianne Feinstein’s Senate seat

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In an announcement made on the platform formerly known as Twitter, California Governor Gavin Newsom has chosen Laphonza Butler to succeed the late Senator Dianne Feinstein in the U.S. Senate. Feinstein’s recent passing left a vacant seat in the Senate, prompting Newsom’s decision.

Butler, currently the president of EMILYs List, an organization dedicated to electing Democratic women who support abortion rights, brings a wealth of experience to the role. She served as a senior campaign adviser to Vice President Kamala Harris during her 2020 presidential campaign and has a distinguished history as a labor leader.

Governor Newsom expressed the significance of this appointment, stating, “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. Laphonza has spent her entire career fighting for women and girls and has been a fierce advocate for working people.”

Newsom also highlighted the historic nature of this appointment, as Butler becomes the first Black lesbian to openly serve in the U.S. Senate.

Before her current role, Butler was the first woman of color to lead EMILYs List when she joined the organization in 2021. Additionally, she previously served as the director of public policy at Airbnb.

It’s worth noting that Butler’s residence has been a point of discussion. While her EMILYs List biography mentioned Maryland as her home, records indicate her registration to vote in California. She is expected to reregister in California before her swearing-in, which could occur as soon as the Senate reconvenes on Tuesday evening.

As of now, Laphonza Butler has not responded to requests for comment from CBS News.

Senator Feinstein, who passed away at the age of 90, had approximately 15 months left in her term at the time of her death. Butler’s swift appointment will strengthen the Democrats’ narrow majority in the Senate as Congress works on longer-term government funding following a last-minute deal that temporarily averted a government shutdown.

News of Butler’s appointment was initially reported by Politico.

Governor Newsom had previously stated his commitment to appointing a Black woman to fill Feinstein’s seat, but he hoped to avoid making such a decision. He also emphasized that he would not choose one of the Democratic candidates vying for Feinstein’s seat in the 2024 election, citing it as “completely unfair to the Democrats that have worked their tail off.”

Importantly, there is no requirement for Butler’s appointment to be temporary, potentially paving the way for her to run for a full term in 2024. In addition to the scheduled Democratic Senate primary in the coming year, a special election is anticipated to determine who will serve the remaining months of Feinstein’s term.

Several prominent figures, including Rep. Barbara Lee, Rep. Adam Schiff, and Rep. Katie Porter, have entered the 2024 race following Feinstein’s announcement that she would not seek reelection. Whether any of these candidates, including Laphonza Butler, will also participate in the expected special election for the remainder of Feinstein’s term remains uncertain.

In response to Butler’s appointment, Rep. Barbara Lee expressed her well wishes and emphasized her commitment to her own Senate campaign, stating, “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.”

As of now, Representatives Adam Schiff and Katie Porter have not yet issued statements regarding Butler’s appointment.

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