Governor Gavin Newsom is now faced with the awkward moment he has not wanted to face, with a second senate seat to fill by appointment, and a two-year-old pledge he may have come to regret.
It's been barely 18 hours since she left this plane, but the political implications it brings mean plenty of drama is already taking shape. The speculation shall now swirl in the coming days over who will be Newsom's pick to fill Senator Dianne Feinstein's senate seat — a choice which, just two weeks ago, he made clear he does not want to make.
In an interview with NBC's "Meet the Press" host Chuck Todd, shot sometime around September 7 or 8 and aired on September 10, Newsom said, "I don’t want to make another [Senate] appointment and I don’t think the people of California want me to make another appointment. 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."
Specifically, he was talking about two Democrats: Rep. Katie Porter and Rep. Adam Schiff. If he were to make good on his pledge of two and a half years ago — when he bucked calls to replace former Senator Kamala Harris with another Black woman and chose Alex Padilla instead, and then said if he got a second chance at an appointment he would choose a Black woman — and hand the seat to the only Black woman currently running for it, Rep. Barbara Lee, he would make a lot of enemies. Schiff and Porter have both led Lee by significant margins in early polling, and making Lee an incumbent in the 2024 election would no doubt change her chances of winning.
At the time Newsom made the pledge, he said, "We have multiple names in mind and the answer is yes."
Those "multiple names," many surmised, likely included Lee, SF Mayor London Breed, Los Angeles County Supervisor Holly Mitchell, and former Congresswoman Karen Bass, who is now mayor of Los Angeles. Another name the New York Times noted Friday is Angela Glover Blackwell, an Oakland civil rights attorney and the founder of a research and advocacy nonprofit, PolicyLink.
As the Chronicle reports, both Mitchell and Bass have publicly said they would not take the job if offered. And the Times says that Breed has indicated the same.
There's also the issue of Lee's politics, which are to the left of Newsom and always have been. Some critics have also pointed out her age, 77. She'll be 78 when the election happens next year, and 84 by the time her term is out if elected.
Lee made her feelings clear following Newsom's comments on "Meet the Press," saying, "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. There are currently no Black women serving in the Senate. Since 1789, there have only been two Black woman Senators, who have served a total of 10 years. The perspective of Black women in the U.S. Senate is sorely needed — and needed for more than a few months."
The other potential candidate would be California Secretary of State Shirley Weber. Weber is 75, Black, and seems unlikely to want to run for a full Senate term. But she also doesn't seem too interested in a "caretaker" job for such a short term. Per the Times, Weber commented Friday, "I never take anything in which I don’t think I can make a difference, and being a senator for a year, I probably couldn’t accomplish an awful lot." And, Weber added, "I do know that all the African American women in the state would love to have an African American senator, not just for a year but for a full term."
A recent Berkeley IGS poll suggested that voters want Newsom to appoint someone to the seat who is prepared and able to run for a full term — and not an interim appointee, as he said two weeks ago he would make.
Whoever is appointed, they will be going to battle in a closely divided Senate and will hold a seat there for at least 16 months.
And who's to say that a "caretaker" senator who pledges not to run for the office next year will stick to that pledge? Anybody remember Mayor Ed Lee?
Of Feinstein, Newsom said in a statement Friday, "Dianne Feinstein was many things — a powerful, trailblazing 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."
Top image: California Gov. Gavin Newsom talks to reporters in the spin room following the FOX Business Republican Primary Debate at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library on September 27, 2023 in Simi Valley, California. Seven presidential hopefuls squared off in the second Republican primary debate as former U.S. President Donald Trump, currently facing indictments in four locations, declined again to participate. (Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images)