WASHINGTON − California Gov. Gavin Newsom said he will appoint Laphonza Butler to fill the vacant seat left by Sen. Dianne Feinstein, who died Thursday night at age 90.
Butler is the first Black woman and mother to lead Emily’s List, an organization that helps Democratic women win elections. Before that, she was president of SEIU Local 2015 − California's biggest union representing home care and nursing facility workers − and as adviser for Vice President Kamala Harris and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's presidential campaigns.
She also has taken up other roles, including director of public policy and campaigns for Airbnb and a member of the University of California Board of Regents.
Newsom said Sunday night on X, formerly Twitter, that Butler, 44, "has spent her entire career fighting for women and girls and has been a fierce advocate for working people."
"She will make history − becoming the first Black lesbian to openly serve in the U.S. Senate," Newsom wrote. "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. I have no doubt she will carry the baton left by Senator Feinstein, continue to break glass ceilings, and fight for all Californians in Washington."
Butler, who lives in Maryland, owns a home in California and will switch her voter registration.
Politico first reported the development. Anthony York, the governor's spokesperson, told the outlet Newsom is making his appointment "without putting limitations or preconditions on his pick running for the seat in 2024," meaning Butler could join the candidates vying for Feinstein's seat next year.
Feinstein, who spent more than 30 years in the Senate, was hospitalized in March for shingles − which required her to step away from Congress for nearly three months − and in August after a minor fall in her home. She has also suffered from encephalitis and Ramsay Hunt syndrome, shingles-related condition that can affect facial nerves.
The decision to have Butler fill Feinstein’s seat comes as Newsom pledged to appoint a Black woman to the Senate if Feinstein were to resign in 2021 and made clear in an interview on NBC’s “Meet the Press” earlier this month that he wouldn’t appoint anyone running for Feinstein’s seat in the 2024 election.
“But you're going to abide by − it would be essentially a caretaker, an African-American woman?" NBC's Chuck Todd asked, to which Newsom replied, “We hope we never have to make this decision, but I abide by what I've said very publicly and on a consistent basis, yes.”
Rep. Barbara Lee, D-Calif., who is running for Feinstein’s seat, blasted Newsom for his remarks on X, the platform formerly known as Twitter.
“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,” Lee said.
The Congressional Black Caucus also urged Newsom to appoint Lee in a letter Sunday.
After Kamala Harris’ rise to the vice presidency in 2020, Newsom was pressured by Black and Latino political advocacy groups to pick a person of color to fill her vacant seat in the Senate. Harris was California’s first Black senator. He ended up choosing then-California Secretary of State Alex Padilla in December of that year.
In a statement after Feinstein’s death, Newsom called her a “trailblazer 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,” Newsom said. “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.”
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Newsom will appoint Laphonza Butler to fill late Sen. Feinstein's seat