Media quick to remind Newsom he pledged to appoint Black woman to Feinstein's seat

September 30, 2023
Jen Krausz

The same day the media announced the death of Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), many outlets reminded California Governor Gavin Newsom (D) that he pledged as far back as 2021 to appoint a Black woman to Feinstein's seat if she stepped down or could no longer serve. 

Feinstein died unexpectedly Thursday night in her home, with scant details being given about exactly what happened to the 90-year-old senator, who was still in her seat in the Senate even as her health appeared to be failing.

Politico cited "pressure to act" to balance a narrowly divided Senate, ABC News said Newsom was "poised to appoint a Black woman" amid "controversy," and the Associated Press cited the NAACP telling Newsom, “Now the time has come for you to keep your promise," just to name a few.

In addition to appointing a Black woman, Newsom has pledged NOT to appoint any of the top three candidates already vying for Feinstein's seat after she said earlier in the year that she would not seek re-election in 2024.

Newsom decides

That means he can't appoint the most obvious choice, Rep. Barbara Lee (D-CA), to the seat because she's already a candidate.

"I don't want to get involved in the primary," Newsom said, adding that it would be an interim 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."

Lee quickly protested Newsom's decision and called it "insulting" that whoever he appointed would only get to be a "caretaker" of the seat "to simply check a box."

Crucial time for Congress

Whoever Newsom chooses, it will mean that both of California's senators will have been appointed by him, since he appointed Alex Padilla in 2020 to take over for newly elected Vice President Kamala Harris.

The vacant seat comes as Congress may be on the verge of a government shutdown, and the Senate will be 50-50 with Harris as a tiebreaker for what could be crucial votes.

But Tim Kaine pointed out that Newsom wants to be respectful of those grieving Feinstein's passing.

“He, you know, wants to be respectful and not name somebody while folks are still grappling with their grief,” Kaine said, adding that “we cannot afford to be one down. We really can’t.”

Judicial consequences

In one committee at least, there will be consequences to Feinstein's absence no matter who is appointed to take her place. Democrats could not let Feinstein step down prior to her death without adverse consequences because she sat on the Judiciary Committee and was the deciding vote there.

Her replacement will not automatically be put on the committee, and Republicans can block any replacement until the next election, putting all of Biden's remaining judicial appointments at risk.

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