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March For Our Lives town hall.

Rep. Barbara Lee speaks at a town hall hosted by the advocacy group March For Our Lives at East LA College on September 8, 2023. | Source: Robert Gauthier / Getty

The next U.S. Senator will be a Black woman, but the fact that she won’t be an experienced legislator and will likely only be in that position on an “interim” basis doesn’t sit well with at least one of the candidates running for that same Senate seat in the 2024 election.

U.S. Rep. Barbara Lee had some kind words for Laphonza Butler, the president of EMILY’s List chosen by Gov. Gavin Newsom to fill the U.S. Senate vacancy left by last week’s death of longtime Sen. Dianne Feinstein. But Lee also let it be known that she would keep her eyes on the prize that is Feinstein’s seat.

Using Butler’s social media handle, Lee posted early Monday morning on X, formerly known as Twitter, that she’s looking forward to “working closely with her to deliver for the Golden State” before adding that she remains “singularly focused on winning my campaign for Senate.”

Lee then drew attention to her own 25 years of experience on Capitol Hill as something that makes her the best candidate for the job.

“CA deserves an experienced Senator who will deliver on progressive priorities,” Lee continued. “That’s exactly what I’m running to do.”

Butler’s appointment does not preclude her from running for her official election in 2024. If she does, Butler would join a crowded field of candidates that includes Lee.

Feinstein died at 90 following more than three decades on Capitol Hill as the longest-serving woman in the U.S. Senate. The cause of her death was not immediately reported, but her health had come under increasing scrutiny in recent months, during which time she had missed dozens of votes.

Her death also came about two years after Newsom filled newly elected Vice President Kamala Harris’ California Senate seat with Alex Padilla, who became the first Latino to represent California in the U.S. Senate. But one consequence of Padilla’s nomination was that the U.S. Senate has been left without the representation of a Black woman for just as long, which is presumably why Newsom said he would nominate a Black woman should another Senate vacancy arise.

In May, Newsom reiterated that pledge to fill Feinstein’s seat, if necessary, on an interim basis with a Black woman, after Feinstein had already announced she would not seek reelection next year.

Fast forward to September 2023 and notable U.S. Congressmembers – including Lee, a Black woman – are among the candidates campaigning to fill Feinstein’s seat in the general election next year.

That’s likely why Newsom, just weeks ago, clarified that not only would he make an “interim appointment” of a Black woman for any Senate vacancy but the person he chose would not be an existing candidate for Feinstein’s seat.

Newsom’s response was “insulting,” Lee said.

“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 responded. “Black women deserve more than a participation trophy. We need a seat at the table.”

On Sunday, the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) cited similar reasons to urge Newsom to appoint Lee to fill the Senate vacancy.

“She is the only person with the courage, the vision, and the record to eradicate poverty, face down the fossil fuel industry, defend our democracy, and tirelessly advance the progressive agenda,” CBC Chairman and Nevada Rep. Steven Horsford wrote in a letter to Newsom. “For these reasons, we strongly urge you to appoint Congresswoman Barbara Lee to the United States Senate.”

There are currently just two Black U.S. Senators: Democrat Cory Booker of New Jersey and South Carolina Sen. Tim Scott of South Carolina.

Butler will be the third-ever Black woman to be a U.S. Senator, following Harris and Carol Moseley Braun of Illinois.


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