Newsom's race to replace Feinstein will come at no small political cost as he weighs the varying demands of Californians
Sen. Dianne Feinstein died Thursday night at the age of 90, leaving behind a storied political legacy and raising questions about who will step in to complete her term.
Feinstein, a Democrat from California, was the longest-serving female senator in U.S. history and the oldest sitting member of Congress.
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.
But with Feinstein's death, the seat is now unoccupied, leaving California Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom with the power to appoint a lawmaker to serve out the remainder of Feinstein’s term.
In a 2021 interview with MSNBC, Newsom vowed that — should Feinstein resign before the end of her term — he would nominate a Black woman to fill her seat. There are currently no Black women serving in the U.S. Senate, though two previously did — one of them, Kamala Harris, left to join the Biden administration as vice president.
He reiterated those remarks as recently as this month, telling Meet the Press in a Sep. 10 interview, “We hope we never have to make this decision, but I abide by what I’ve said very publicly on a consistent basis."
Lee, currently a U.S. congresswoman, is Black — though Newsom has said he doesn’t 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.
“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,” Newsom said in the interview earlier this month with Meet the Press.
Lee criticized Newsom for the remarks, saying in a statement to Politico that she was "troubled" by 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."
In a statement released following the news of her death, Newsom touched on Feinstein's political career, but offered no insight into who he may select to replace her.
“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.
He continued: "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.”
Feinstein 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 a statement officially announcing her death, Feinstein's chief of staff James Sauls touched on her legacy, which he called "undeniable and extraordinary."
"Sadly, Senator Feinstein passed away last night at her home in Washington, D.C.," a statement read. "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."
Sauls continued: "There is much to say about who she was and what she did, but for now, we are going to grieve the passing of our beloved boss, mentor and friend."
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