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California Governor Appoints Laphonza Butler to Feinstein Senate Seat

California Gov. Gavin Newsom will appoint Laphonza Butler, a Democratic strategist and adviser, to fill the vacant U.S. Senate seat previously held by Sen. Dianne Feinstein. Butler will be the only Black woman serving in the Senate and the first openly LGBTQ person to represent California in the chamber. Her appointment will give the Democratic caucus more flexibility on close votes.

California Governor Gavin Newsom has announced his selection of Laphonza Butler, a Democratic strategist and adviser to Kamala Harris' presidential campaign, to fill the vacant U.S. Senate seat previously held by the late Senator Dianne Feinstein. Newsom's decision to appoint Butler fulfills his promise to appoint a Black woman if the seat became available. However, he faced pressure from some Black politicians and advocacy groups to choose Representative Barbara Lee, a prominent Black congresswoman who is already running for the seat.

Butler's appointment makes her the only Black woman currently serving in the U.S. Senate and the first openly LGBTQ person to represent California in the chamber. Feinstein, who served as a Democratic senator for many years, passed away last week after battling various illnesses.

Butler is the leader of Emily's List, a political organization that supports Democratic women candidates who advocate for abortion rights. She also has a background in labor leadership with SEIU 2015, a powerful force in California politics. Currently residing in Maryland, Butler has not yet responded to requests for comment on her appointment.

With Democrats currently holding a slim majority in the Senate, Newsom's swift appointment of Butler will provide the Democratic caucus with more flexibility in close votes, particularly on nominations that Republicans generally oppose. Butler could be sworn in as early as Tuesday evening when the Senate reconvenes.

Feinstein, the oldest member of Congress and the longest-serving woman in the Senate, passed away at the age of 90. In February, she announced that she would not seek reelection in 2024. Lee, along with Democratic U.S. Representatives Katie Porter and Adam Schiff, is among the prominent Democrats vying for the vacant seat. Newsom decided against appointing any of the candidates, as it would give them an unfair advantage in the upcoming race. The deadline for candidates to file for the office is December 8th.

Although Butler has never held elected office, she has an extensive background in California politics. She previously served as a senior adviser to Harris' 2020 presidential campaign and has worked at a political firm with ties to Newsom and other influential state Democrats. Butler also had a brief stint in the private sector with Airbnb.

In a statement following Feinstein's passing, Butler referred to her as a "legendary figure for women in politics and around the country." Emily's List, the organization she leads, focuses on electing Democratic women who support abortion rights, which has become a crucial issue for many Democrats following the Supreme Court's decision to overturn women's constitutional right to abortion in 2022.

This is not Newsom's first experience in selecting a U.S. senator. He previously appointed California Secretary of State Alex Padilla to fill the vacancy left by Kamala Harris when she was elected vice president. Newsom's power to make such appointments has given him significant influence within the state's Democratic party.

Given the Democratic stronghold in California and their significant voter registration advantage over Republicans, it is expected that the seat will remain in Democratic hands in the 2024 election. The party has not lost a statewide election in the liberal-leaning state since 2006.

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