Pressure is on Newsom to quickly appoint Feinstein’s temporary replacement

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The death of Sen. Dianne Feinstein places Gov. Gavin Newsom under intense pressure to quickly name a replacement as a bitterly divided Congress votes on a spending plan in the coming hours to avert a government shutdown.

Newsom had hoped to avoid the politically charged decision of selecting a second senator. But he will need to move swiftly as a budget standoff has the government on the verge of shutting down, and Senate Democrats could need every vote. Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.) affirmed on Friday that the fast-moving political situation creates an imperative for Newsom to make a difficult decision quickly.

“He, you know, wants to be respectful and not name somebody while folks are still grappling with their grief,” Kaine said, but “we cannot afford to be one down. We really can’t.”

The timing of Feinstein's death — four months before a primary but more than a year before the end of her term — complicates this election cycle. Staff at the California secretary of state's office was huddling early Friday morning to determine the timelines that would govern an appointment or a possible special election.

The governor's inner circle knows he's facing a vastly tighter timeline than the five weeks it took him to nominate Alex Padilla to Kamala Harris' Senate seat after the 2020 presidential election. He's expected to move quickly on the appointment while respecting the death of a longtime friend and mentor.

Newsom released a statement on Feinstein's death Friday morning, eulogizing the senator without getting into the timing of appointing a caretaker to her seat.

"Dianne Feinstein was many things — a powerful, trailblazing US Senator; an early voice for gun control; a leader in times of tragedy and chaos," Newsom said in the statement.

"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."

The possibility of Feinstein not finishing her term has loomed over California politics for months as the senator combatted health problems and exhibited signs of cognitive decline. California is in the midst of a once-in-a-generation race to succeed Feinstein in the Senate after she said she would not seek reelection.

But with more than a year left in Feinstein's term, Newsom will need to appoint someone to take her place — a freighted decision that's certain to alienate people.

Newsom has committed to appointing a Black woman if he got a second Senate appointment, but he recently said that if Feinstein did not complete her term he would select an interim replacement rather than Rep. Barbara Lee, the only Black woman who is running for Feinstein’s seat. Lee excoriated Newsom over those comments.

Still, Newsom reiterated this month that he plans to appoint a Black woman. “We hope we never have to make this decision, but I abide by what I’ve said very publicly on a consistent basis,” he said during a Sept. 10 interview on “Meet the Press.”

Burgess Everett contributed to this report.