Newsom's Diversity Pick for Senate Could Backfire, Create Awkward Showdown Between Two Black Female Dems

Laphonza Butler, Barbara Lee (Evelyn Hockstein/Reuters, Alex Wong/Getty Images)
October 3, 2023

California governor Gavin Newsom's (D.) decision to appoint pro-abortion fundraiser Laphonza Butler to the Senate is already causing tensions among congressional Democrats and could set up a primary clash in the 2024 election.

Newsom on Sunday announced that he tapped Butler, a Maryland resident and the president of pro-abortion fundraising group EMILY's List, to serve out the late Dianne Feinstein's Senate seat, which is up for election in 2024.

Newsom's choice is causing fractures in the Congressional Black Caucus, which has already endorsed Rep. Barbara Lee (D.) to run for the seat in 2024, according to Politico. Both Lee and Butler are black.

"Now the caucus faces a situation where two of its members could be facing off," Politico reported, "and while folks we spoke to say the caucus will do its damndest not to pit two Black women against each other, tensions are already emerging."

Those tensions will likely worsen if Butler decides to run for the seat in her own right.

Butler, who reportedly won't make an announcement on running until after Feinstein's Thursday memorial, has Newsom's backing. The governor has said that his Senate pick "would be an ideal candidate for the seat if she chooses to run for it," Politico reported.

Newsom's statement is a sharp shift from earlier this year. While the governor said he would only appoint a black woman to the seat, he ruled out appointing Lee, saying he didn't want to affect the 2024 primary.

Lee issued a furious response, suggesting last month that Newsom's decision was racist.

"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 said.

Newsom on Monday attempted to backpedal on his claim of appointing a caretaker, calling it "rearview mirror stuff right now," Politico reported.