California Gov. Newsom Will Appoint Laphonza Butler to Fill Feinstein’s Senate Seat
California Gov. Gavin Newsom will appoint Laphonza Butler, the president of EMILY’s List, to fill the late Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein’s Senate seat, his office confirmed Sunday evening.
Butler will become the first out Black lesbian to join Congress, according to Newsom. She will also be the sole Black female senator serving in Congress and only the third in US history. Feinstein, the longest-serving female US senator in history, died last week at 90.
“I am honored to accept Gov. Newsom’s nomination to be a U.S. Senator for a state I have long called home,” Butler said in a statement Monday, adding that she is “humbled by the Governor’s trust.”
“For women and girls, for workers and unions, for struggling parents waiting for our leaders to bring opportunity back to their homes, for all of California, I’m ready to serve,” she said.
The selection of Butler, first reported by Politico, comes as Democrats hold a narrow Senate majority and uncertainty looms over New Jersey Sen. Bob Menendez’s political future amid outcry from his Democratic colleagues over his federal indictment.
Butler has been the president of EMILY’s List, which works to elect Democratic women who support abortion rights, since the group’s board of directors appointed her in 2021, when she became the first woman of color to lead the organization. She previously worked at Airbnb as a director of public policy and campaigns and has a long history working in California politics, including as an adviser to Vice President Kamala Harris’ 2020 presidential campaign. But much of her background is in the labor movement, serving as a union president in California.
Several high-profile Democratic candidates launched campaigns earlier this year to succeed Feinstein, who announced in February that she would not run for reelection. They include a trio of House Democrats: Reps. Adam Schiff, a former House Intelligence chairman who is backed by former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi; Katie Porter, a former deputy chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus; and Barbara Lee, a former chair of the Congressional Black Caucus and a member of House Democratic leadership. Also in the race are Democrat Lexi Reese, a tech executive, and Republican lawyer Eric Early, who ran unsuccessfully for state attorney general in 2022.
Newsom previously pledged to appoint a Black woman to Feinstein’s seat should the senator resign before her term’s end. Many had urged Newsom to appoint Lee, a longtime representative from Oakland and the only Black woman running for the seat, including the Congressional Black Caucus, which sent a letter to Newsom asking him to choose Lee just hours before his announcement.
But the governor said last month that he would not appoint any of the candidates currently seeking the office, though Newsom’s office said Monday that there were no conditions placed on Butler and that any decision to run for a full term would be her own.
Butler moved to Maryland in 2021 around the time she was chosen to lead EMILY’s List, public records show. She was registered to vote in Maryland in 2022, according to public records, but Newsom’s office said Monday, in response to questions about Butler’s residency, that she has re-registered to vote in California.