The death of Sen. Dianne Feinstein on Thursday night has left California Gov. Gavin Newsom with the job of appointing a replacement to serve the remaining 15 months of her term — a choice he hoped never to have to make.
Newsom initially promised in 2021 to pick a black woman to replace Feinstein if she was unable to remain in the Senate through January 2025. That was in response to the outcry from some quarters after he appointed then-California Secretary of State Alex Padilla to replace Sen. Kamala Harris after her election as vice president.
After Feinstein announced earlier this year that she would not run for another term, three prominent House Democratic lawmakers — Reps. Adam Schiff, Katie Porter and Barbara Lee — rushed to take her place, setting up a bitter and expensive primary fight.
Earlier this month, Newsom told NBC’s “Meet the Press” that he would not pick anyone currently running for Feinstein’s seat to be a placeholder.
“I don’t want to get involved in the primary,” he said. “It would be completely unfair to the Democrats that have worked their tail off. That primary is just a matter of months away. I don’t want to tip the balance of that.”
That triggered an angry response from Lee.
“If the Governor intends to keep his promise and appoint a Black woman to the Senate, the people of California deserve the best possible person for that job. Not a token appointment,” she said in a statement, adding: “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.”
“Black women deserve more than a participation trophy,” Lee concluded her statement. “We need a seat at the table.”
Newsom’s rep tried to put out the fire, calling the scenario “a hypothetical on top of a hypothetical.”
“There is no vacancy for any US Senate seat, nor does the Governor anticipate there will be one,” Anthony York said. “Voters will have their say on who should replace Senator Feinstein when they go to the polls less than six months from now.”
Now the hypothetical has become reality and Newsom will have the final say.
The governor gave no indication of when he might appoint Feinstein’s replacement in a statement marking her passing.
“Dianne Feinstein was many things — a powerful, trailblazing U.S. Senator; an early voice for gun control; a leader in times of tragedy and chaos. But to me, she was a dear friend, a lifelong mentor, and a role model not only for me, but to my wife and daughters for what a powerful, effective leader looks like.
“She was a political giant, whose tenacity was matched by her grace. She broke down barriers and glass ceilings, but never lost her belief in the spirit of political cooperation. And she was a fighter — for the city, the state and the country she loved. Every race she won, she made history, but her story wasn’t just about being the first woman in a particular political office, it was what she did for California, and for America, with that power once she earned it. That’s what she should be remembered for.
“There is simply nobody who possessed the strength, gravitas, and fierceness of Dianne Feinstein. Jennifer and I are deeply saddened by her passing, and we will mourn with her family in this difficult time.”
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