Gavin Newsom Appoints Laphonza Butler To Finish Dianne Feinstein's Senate Term

California Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) announced he’s appointing EMILY’s List President Laphonza Butler to finish out the late Sen. Dianne Feinstein’s Senate term, making good on his promise to fill the vacancy with a Black woman.

The swift appointment was essential for Democrats’ power in the Senate, where they have a slim 50-49 majority following Feinstein’s death at age 90.

Butler’s appointment will last until January 2025, when Feinstein’s sixth term in the chamber was due to end. It’s up to voters to select a permanent senator for the next six-year term.

“I’m honored to accept Gov. [Gavin Newsom’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 posted on X, formerly Twitter.

“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,” the labor leader continued. “I am ready to serve.”

The race for Feinstein’s seat was well underway at the time of her death. Three Democrats representing California in the House had launched campaigns: Reps. Barbara Lee, Katie Porter and Adam Schiff. While Newsom made good on his pledge of appointing a Black woman by selecting Butler, he said in September he wouldn’t nominate someone who’s seeking to hold the seat permanently.

“I don’t want to get involved in the primary,” Newsom told NBC News. “It would be completely unfair to the Democrats who’ve worked their tails off.”

That was a big blow to Lee, who’s trailing Porter and Schiff in both polls and fundraising.

“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 said on X after Newsom’s remarks.

Just hours before Newsom announced Butler’s appointment, the Congressional Black Caucus called on the governor to appoint Lee to the position. An adviser to the governor told Politico that Newsom didn’t place preconditions on whether Butler can run for the seat in 2024.

There are currently no Black women elected to serve in the Senate. Prior to Newsom’s nomination, Sens. Carol Moseley Braun and Kamala Harris were the only two to have ever sat in the Senate.

This is the second time Newsom has gotten to nominate a senator. When then-California Sen. Harris won the vice presidency in 2020, the governor nominated now-Sen. Alex Padilla to replace her. Newsom caught some flak for selecting Padilla, who is a first-generation Mexican American, to replace the only Black woman in Congress.

Sanjana Karanth contributed to this report.