California’s Newsom picks Laphonza Butler to fill Feinstein’s Senate seat

(Reuters) -California Governor Gavin Newsom said he had picked Laphonza Butler to fill the U.S. Senate vacancy left by Dianne Feinstein, who died on Thursday at age 90, preserving the Democrats’ majority in the chamber.

Butler had been serving as president of EMILY’s List, an organization that works to elect to office Democratic female candidates who support abortion rights.

The appointment would make her the first Black lesbian to openly serve in the Senate, according to Newsom. Butler – who would also become the only Black woman in the Senate and only the third in U.S. history – will serve through the end of Feinstein’s six-year term in January 2025.

Her appointment comes as her fellow Democrats hold a narrow 51-49 majority in the Senate, including three independents who vote with them, and amid uncertainty about the future of Democratic Senator Bob Menendez, who has been indicted on corruption charges.

Butler has also worked as a senior adviser to Vice President Kamala Harris, a Democrat, and was the president of the largest labor union in California, representing more than 325,000 nursing home and home-care workers throughout the state.

“Laphonza has spent her entire career fighting for women and girls and has been a fierce advocate for working people,” Newsom, a leading Democrat, said in a social media post on Sunday.

Newsom had said he would name a Black woman to Feinstein’s seat if the post became vacant.

Feinstein, who became the longest-serving woman senator ever, advocated gun control and spearheaded the first federal assault weapons ban. She also documented the CIA’s torture of foreign terrorism suspects.

Feinstein in February said she would not seek reelection, and contenders began lining up for her seat. Liberal U.S. Representative Barbara Lee is running for the seat in 2024, as are other prominent Democrats, including U.S. Representatives Adam Schiff and Katie Porter.

Newsom had said he would not pick one of the candidates running for the seat in 2024, disappointing supporters of Lee.

(Reporting by Urvi Dugar in Bengaluru; Editing by Edwina Gibbs and Jonathan Oatis)