A number of California Democrats had expressed interest in succeeding Sen. Dianne Feinstein following her death last week, including Reps. Adam Schiff, Katie Porter, and Barbara Lee. However, the decision was left to Gov.
Gavin Newsom who announced Sunday that Laphonza Butler, the Maryland-based head of the radical pro-abortion political action committee Emily’s List and former adviser to Kamala Harris and Hillary Clinton, would assume the seat until the end of Feinstein’s term in 2024.
Laphonza’s expeditious appointment ensures that Democrats will sustain their advantage in the Senate and attain their objectives regarding judicial appointments and budgeting decisions this week.
Although Republicans possess 49 of the Senate’s 100 seats, Democrats retain a majority with their 48 seats, the two independents who caucus with them, and the third independent who regularly votes in concurrence with them.
Hours after Feinstein’s death, the NAACP told Newsom Friday, “Now the time has come for you to keep your promise.”
President Joe Biden has vowed to appoint a Supreme Court justice on the basis of their immutable characteristics such as race and gender, according to the Guardian. Similarly, California Governor Gavin Newsom has pledged to select a Senate appointee on similar criteria.
This is not the first instance in which Newsom’s political decisions have been reflective of his commitment towards ensuring equitable representation; when Vice President Kamala Harris vacated her seat in the Senate for her new role, Newsom chose former California Secretary of State Alex Padilla, thus making him the state’s first Latino senator.
Supporters of 77-year-old Rep. Barbara Lee believed that she was a likely candidate for the position, given that she met Governor Gavin Newsom’s two main criteria. The Congressional Black Caucus wrote to Newsom on Sunday expressing their opinion that Lee “possess[es] the courage, vision, and record necessary to eliminate poverty, challenge the fossil fuel industry, protect our democracy, and actively support progressive causes” (Politico).
However, despite being a California resident of African descent, Newsom selected Butler from Silver Spring, Maryland instead.
According to Anthony York, a spokesman for Governor Newsom, the governor has not mandated that Butler remain out of the 2024 Senate race. This means Lee is behind Schiff and Porter by double digits in recent polls for the Senate race, could stand to miss out twice on the seat inside a year’s time.
“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 a Sunday statement, adding that Butler will “carry the baton” in advancing the pro-abortion and gun control agendas in Washington.
In 2021, Butler took the role of Chief Executive Officer at Emily’s List, a Political Action Committee (PAC) that provides financial assistance to female candidates who advocate for abortion rights.
Since its inception, Emily’s List has successfully aided 26 pro-abortion women in their Senate campaigns and 175 women with their House campaigns.
Prior to joining Emily’s List, Butler spent nearly two decades at the Service Employees International Union and served as an adviser to both Hillary Clinton’s 2016 presidential campaign and her widely unpopular vice president during the 2020 election.
Upon taking the post at the pro-abortion PAC, Butler declared that pro-life legislation across the country “jeopardizes our democracy” and is, in conjunction with alleged “voter suppression” attempts, “part of a decades-long Republican effort to undermine our democracy, deprive people of color of their right to vote, and subvert our elections.”
In addition to being an advocate for abortion access, Butler – who identifies as a lesbian – is also an outspoken LGBT activist. She has made clear she seeks a uniformly Democratic state that guarantees women the legal ability to make reproductive decisions for themselves by publicly stating her intent to “vote out every MAGA extremist and replace them all with a Democratic pro-choice woman.”
Tony Hoang, the executive director of Equality California, an LGBT activist organization, released a statement expressing enthusiasm over Governor Newsom’s historic appointment of Laphonza Butler to the U.S. Senate.
He noted that this move will provide the LGBTQ+ community with another voice in Congress at a time when their rights and freedoms are under threat throughout the nation.
He concluded by noting his anticipation for working with Butler as she takes on her new role and continues to advocate for equity, freedom, and justice for all.
State Senator Scott Wiener (D) echoed similar sentiments regarding Governor Newsom’s decision; according to The New York Times he cited it as a powerful statement due to Butler being a Black lesbian.