Laphonza Butler was set to be sworn in Monday as only the third Black woman ever to serve in the U.S. Senate, and the second openly lesbian senator, after Governor Gavin Newsom moved swiftly to make his choice to fill Dianne Feinstein's seat.
Politico was the first to the news Monday morning that Newsom had appointed Butler, a former Airbnb exec and University of California regent who most recently has been serving as president of Emily's List, the fundraising organization that supports women in politics.
"I am honored to accept Gov. Newsom’s nomination to be a U.S. senator for a state I have long called home,” Butler said in a statement. "For women and girls, for workers and unions, for struggling parents waiting for our leaders to bring opportunity back to their homes, for all of California, I’m ready to serve."
Contrary to what Newsom had said earlier this month, it sounds like Butler is not going to be bound to being an interim or "caretaker" senator for the remainder of Feinstein's turn. According to Politico, "an adviser to the governor, Anthony York... [said] that Newsom is making his appointment without putting limitations or preconditions on his pick running for the seat in 2024."
In an interview on "Meet the Press" in early September, 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."
That statement was met with derision, especially from Rep. Barbara Lee, who took it to mean that Newsom would be appointing a Black woman to the seat — as he had also pledged to do if he got another appointment opportunity — only on an interim basis, and she also likely took it to mean it would not be her.
But with the appointment of Butler, Newsom has made a surprising choice of someone versed in politics and who is the "head of a fundraising juggernaut," as Politico notes — something that could give her a distinct advantage, along with incumbency, in the March primary and November 2024 election. And this will likely make Reps. Adam Schiff and Katie Porter, who have so far been polling ahead of Lee, a bit nervous.
Butler is a Southern Mississippi native whom Newsom once considered for his own chief of staff in the governor's office, as Politico reports.
Newsom made the official announcement of Butler's appointment on X/Twitter late Sunday.
"As we mourn the enormous loss of Sen. Feinstein, the very freedoms she fought for — reproductive freedom, equal protection, and safety from gun violence — have never been under greater assault," Newsom said. Laphonza 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."
I'm proud to announce California's new United States Senator -- Laphonza Butler.— Gavin Newsom (@GavinNewsom) October 2, 2023
As we mourn the enormous loss of Sen. Feinstein, the very freedoms she fought for -- reproductive freedom, equal protection, and safety from gun violence -- have never been under greater assault.… pic.twitter.com/SOnbfVPmXj
Importantly, Butler will also be the first LGBT senator to represent California. As an LGBT member of the Senate, Butler joins openly bisexual Kyrsten Sinema and openly lesbian Tammy Baldwin — but the list is a short one, and the only other known gay member of the chamber was former Senator Harrison Wofford of Pennsylvania, who served four years in in the 90s but was closeted at the time.
Butler was to be sworn today in by Vice President Kamala Harris, who previously was the second Black woman to serve in the Senate after Carol Moseley Braun.
Update: Republicans and Fox News have been making a lot of hay all day over the fact that Butler is a resident of Maryland, having moved there in 2021, but Newsom says she still owns a home in California and lived here for years. Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA) suggests this appointment may be illegal under the state constitution.
Top photo: EMILYs List President Laphonza Butler attends EMILYs List's 2023 Pre-Oscars Breakfast at The Beverly Hilton on March 07, 2023 in Beverly Hills, California. (Photo by Araya Doheny/Getty Images for EMILYs List)