The Democratic strategist and president of EMILY's List will make history as the first Black lesbian to openly serve in the U.S. Senate
Laphonza Butler is set to fill the late Sen. Dianne Feinstein's Senate's seat.
California Gov. Gavin Newsom officially announced Butler as the state's new United States Senator late Sunday night, just two days after Feinstein died at the age of 90. She will make history as the first Black lesbian to openly serve in the U.S. Senate, and the first openly LGBTQ person to represent California in the Senate.
Butler is expected to be sworn-in Wednesday by Vice President Kamala Harris, Politico reported. She has history with Harris, having working as an advisor to the former California Senator's 2020 presidential campaign (Harris withdrew from the race prior to the primaries).
The Democratic strategist is currently the president of EMILY’s List, an American political action committee that, per its website, "aims to help elect Democratic female candidates in favor of abortion rights to office." She also previously led the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), an influential labor union.
"Laphonza has spent her entire career fighting for women and girls and has been a fierce advocate for working people," Newsom wrote on X Sunday. "From her time as President of EMILY's List to leading the state's largest labor union, she has always stood up for what is right and has led with her heart and her values."
"As we mourn the enormous loss of Sen. Feinstein, the very freedoms she fought for — reproductive freedom, equal protection, and safety from gun violence — have never been under greater assault," Newsom's post also said. "I have no doubt [Butler] will carry the baton left by Senator Feinstein, continue to break glass ceilings, and fight for all Californians in Washington."
I'm proud to announce California's new United States Senator -- Laphonza Butler.
As we mourn the enormous loss of Sen. Feinstein, the very freedoms she fought for -- reproductive freedom, equal protection, and safety from gun violence -- have never been under greater assault.… pic.twitter.com/SOnbfVPmXj
— Gavin Newsom (@GavinNewsom) October 2, 2023
Butler is married to her wife, Neneki. Together they have a daughter, Nylah.
In announcing Butler's appointment to the seat, Newsom keeps a promise he made in a 2021 interview with MSNBC, when he said that, should Feinstein resign before the end of her term, he would nominate a Black woman to fill her seat.
He reiterated those remarks as recently as early September, telling Meet the Press, “We hope we never have to make this decision, but I abide by what I’ve said very publicly on a consistent basis."
There were previously no Black women serving in the U.S. Senate, though two previously did. Harris, left to join the Biden administration as vice president. Newsom appointed Alex Padilla, then California's secretary of state, to serve out the remainder of Harris' term — a move that many criticized at the time, as it left the Senate without a Black woman.
Even before her death, Feinstein's announcement that she would retire at the end of her term in January 2025 opened the door for one lucky politician to take her place. A number of big-name Democratic lawmakers, including Reps. Adam Schiff, Katie Porter and Barbara Lee, have announced campaigns for the seat in 2024.
Lee, currently a U.S. congresswoman, is Black — though Newsom said previously he did not want to appoint her to Feinstein's seat, fearing the appointment would be too politically charged and be seen as an endorsement of Lee's candidacy to be elected to the role later.
Feinstein, a Democrat from California, was the longest-serving female senator in U.S. history and the oldest sitting member of Congress. She was elected to the Senate in 1992, embarking on a congressional career during which she authored the federal Assault Weapons Ban in 1994 (which expired in 2014) and served as a leading voice for the legalization of gay marriage in 2015.
In an official statement, her chief of staff James Sauls said Feinstein passed away at her Washington, D.C. home, adding: "Her passing is a great loss for so many, from those who loved and cared for her to the people of California that she dedicated her life to serving."
Butler was one of the many voices praising Feinstein after her death.
"I'm saddened to hear of the passing of Sen. Dianne Feinstein," she wrote on X. "Not only was she a titan in the Senate, but a legendary figure for women in politics and around the country. Her legacy and achievements will not be forgotten. My prayers are with her family. She will be deeply missed."
Feinstein's seat runs through 2024.
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