Despite being the oldest sitting U.S. senator at age 87 (she'll be 88 in June), Dianne Feinstein insists she plans to serve her full six-year term, which doesn't end until 2024 when she will be 91. Given calls by some Democrats for her to step down — especially after the embarrassment of her turncoat behavior during the Amy Coney Barrett confirmation hearing, and some evidence of cognitive decline on display last fall — Gavin Newsom made clear today that if and when Feinstein does throw in the towel, he will appoint a Black woman to replace her.
Much as there is some pressure on Feinstein to step aside, there has been pressure on Newsom to rectify the lack of representation for Black women in the Senate after he chose to appoint Alex Padilla to take Kamala Harris's seat — he had been facing equal pressure from the Latinx community to appoint California's first Latinx senator. Newsom made the pledge to choose a Black female candidate in an interview Tuesday with MSNBC, saying, "We have multiple names in mind and the answer is yes."
Back in the fall, it was widely rumored that congresswomen Karen Bass (D-Los Angeles) and Barbara Lee (D-Oakland) were strong contenders for Harris's seat, and presumably they remain high on the list.
As CBS News reports, Feinstein pushed back on questioning about Newsom's comments from reporters, saying, "I don't think he meant that the way some people thought,"and "you're making a mountain out of a molehill."
It should be acknowledged that Newsom is now all but certain to be facing a recall vote this year, and if there's one thing that could motivate Democrats to come out in support of him, and to reject the recall, it's the prospect of a Republican landing in the governor's office again and getting to pick Feinstein's replacement in the potentially near future — thereby shifting control of the Senate back to the GOP.
Also, he will need to get out whatever Black vote he can to reject the recall as well.
There is a strong possibility that the pressure on Feinstein could escalate — especially after a fairly uncomfortable New Yorker piece last fall that pointed out the various ways she's been sounding a bit senile. One instance mentioned in the first paragraphs of the piece involved a November 17 hearing in which she asked Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey the exact same question twice, with barely a pause in between, seemingly unaware that she had just fully repeated herself.
Also, as SFist noted in February, Feinstein's approval rating among California voters recently hit an all time low of 35%. And no one is sure to soon forget her hugging and praising of Senate Judiciary Committee chair Lindsey Graham at the end of the Barrett hearing.
Former SF supervisor and chair of the SF Democratic Party, David Campos told the Guardian at the time, "There have been a number of us in San Francisco that for a long time felt that, without taking away from what she has accomplished, it has gotten to a point where she is out of touch with where San Francisco is and where California is... She represents the past of San Francisco and California. It’s not surprising that at a time when we’re facing a crisis, when we have a rightwing supremacist being rushed through the supreme court, she’s not up to the task. And it’s not because of her age. It’s just because of who she is.”
Update: Newsom chimed in later on Tuesday to defend Feinstein, and he said, "I have zero expectations the senator will be going anywhere." At an event in Alameda, per KPIX, Newsom said he should have followed the political rule never to answer a hypothetical question. "I’m the last person to say anything except laudatory things about Senator Feinstein," he said.
Update 2: The New York Times is reporting that Richard Blum, Feinstein's husband, is angling to get an overseas appointment from Biden — an ambassadorship in a European capital perhaps — and this could give Feinstein an out when it comes to leaving the Senate gracefully if she wants to join him.
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