California Gov. Newsom to appoint Laphonza Butler to fill Sen. Feinstein’s seat

(SACRAMENTO, Calif.) — California Gov. Gavin Newsom announced on Sunday plans to appoint Laphonza Butler, the president of EMILY’S List, to fill the Senate seat left vacant following Dianne Feinstein’s death late last week.

Butler was previously an adviser to Vice President Kamala Harris’ presidential campaign in 2020, and before that a labor leader. Newsom issued a statement after news of Butler’s impending appointment broke.

“An advocate for women and girls, a second-generation fighter for working people, and a trusted adviser to Vice President Harris, Laphonza Butler represents the best of California, and she’ll represent us proudly in the United States Senate,” Newsom said in his statement.

He added, “As we mourn the enormous loss of Senator Feinstein, the very freedoms she fought for — reproductive freedom, equal protection, and safety from gun violence — have never been under greater assault. Laphonza will carry the baton left by Senator Feinstein, continue to break glass ceilings, and fight for all Californians in Washington D.C.”

Newsom previously pledged to fill any Senate vacancy with a Black woman, making the comment on MSNBC’s The Reid Out, with host Joy Reid, in 2021.

“If in fact Dianne Feinstein were to retire, will you nominate an African American woman to restore the seat [since] Kamala Harris is no longer in the United States Senate?” Reid asked. “And do you have a name in mind?”

Newsom replied: “We have multiple names in mind and the answer is yes.”

Many thought he might appoint Rep. Barbara Lee — the only Black woman of the three high-profile Democrats running for Feinstein’s seat.

But on NBC’s Meet the Press last month, Newsom said that he would not appoint any of the three, a group that includes Reps. Katie Porter and Adam Schiff as well as Lee, to the seat if it became vacant.

Newsom said he would instead make an “interim appointment” to replace Feinstein so as to not “tip the balance” in the competitive Senate primary.

EMILY’s List is a political action committee that works to elect Democrat pro-choice women.

Butler appeared on GMA3 in Oct. 2021 after becoming president of EMILY’s List where she spoke about some of the issues the organization was working to address.

“There is so much to be done across our state legislatures where we’re seeing our rights contracted by Republican-controlled houses, whether it’s abortion rights or voting rights or choosing to not raise the minimum wage in these states,” she said. “It is an opportunity right now, in this moment, where we have to have dual focus. We have to make sure we maintain and grow our federal majorities, but we also need to make sure that we’re doing the work at the states, all across the country, up and down the ballot, which is the work that EMILY’s List has been doing for a number of years and is making an unprecedented investment right now.”

California Senator Alex Padilla said in a statement he was honored to welcome her to the Senate.

“Throughout her career, Laphonza Butler has been a strong voice for working families, LGBTQ rights, and a champion for increasing women’s representation in politics. I’m honored to welcome her to the United States Senate,” Padilla’s statement read.

“Governor Newsom’s swift action ensures that Californians maintain full representation in the Senate as we navigate a narrow Democratic majority. I look forward to working together to deliver for the people of California,” his statement concluded.

ABC News’ Isabella Murphy and Marilyn Heck contributed to this report.

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