Funeral and Lying In State Services for recently deceased Senator Dianne Feinstein were announced on Monday amid growing concern that her interim replacement, Laphonza Butler, may not meet all the necessary requirements for office.
Since Friday, California has seen a major political shakeup occur with unprecedented speed. Early on Friday, September 29th, Senator Dianne Feinstein died in Washington D.C. For years, Feinstein had been closely watched because of her numerous health problems. Polling showed that the majority of voters wanted her out, with another major push having been expected soon. It reached such a point that Governor Gavin Newsom began seriously going over picks of whom he wanted as an interim, caretaker Senator.
Having already said that his next pick would be a black woman because of outcry over having not had a similar replacement for Kamala Harris in 2021, speculation ran rampant over the summer. In recent months, Newsom narrowed it down by saying that his pick would only fill in the rest of Feinstein’s term, with the next person coming in the 2024 election. Congresswoman Barbara Lee (D-CA), who is currently running for Senate, chastised Newsom for this decision as it put her out of the running and would not give her a much needed advantage of incumbent in next years race. And while Butler had been on the radar for many pundits, most political experts had been speculating that Newsom would pick either Secretary of State Shirley Weber or San Francisco Mayor London Breed.
“Newsom had been going over people for months,” said Dana, a Capitol staffer. “Barring a major change, he knew who he was going to pick for awhile. He had already pared down shortlists.”
The news of Feinstein’s death made national headlines and thrust Newsom once again into the spotlight as reembraces poured in on Friday and Saturday. Then on Sunday, the next big shift happened. While most interim replacements chosen by Governors usually take a few weeks minimum to sort out, especially if it happens over a recess period, Newsom announced his pick less than 48 hours after Feinstein’s death. Months of prior work in deciding a successor, the close 51-49 party split in the Senate, and worry over the Democrats losing their hairline majority because of resignation calls against Senator Bob Menendez (D-NJ) over bribery allegations, all led Newsom to announce the name fast. And on Sunday it became known: EMILY’s List President Laphonza Butler.
“An advocate for women and girls, a second-generation fighter for working people, and a trusted adviser to Vice President Harris, Laphonza Butler represents the best of California, and she’ll represent us proudly in the United States Senate,” said Newsom on Sunday. “As we mourn the enormous loss of Senator Feinstein, the very freedoms she fought for — reproductive freedom, equal protection, and safety from gun violence — have never been under greater assault. Laphonza will carry the baton left by Senator Feinstein, continue to break glass ceilings, and fight for all Californians in Washington D.C.”
A divisive choice by Newsom
The choice of Butler was immediately divisive. In addition to being a president at EMILY’s List, Butler has had no elected experience. Previously was a union organizer for the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), an SEIU local president, a regent of the University of California, an advisor on Kamala Harris’ failed 2020 presidential run, and an Airbnb director of public policy. However, it also became apparent on Sunday that Butler may not even be allowed to take the seat as she is currently a resident of Maryland.
Newsom’s office soon clarified that she would be updating her residency before taking office, similar to how Dick Cheney updated his residency in 2000 from Texas to Wyoming to meet election rules. Despite this, concern carried over into Monday as Butler’s Maryland residency was deepened because of her child going to a Maryland school and Butler herself having not lived in California for several years, as well as Butler panicking about the situation and deleting all connections she has to Maryland online.
Even with the controversy brewing, Butler accepted Newsom’s appointment on Monday, stating, “I am honored to accept Gov. Newsom’s nomination to be a U.S. Senator for a state I have long called home.”
I'm honored to accept Gov. @GavinNewsom's nomination to be U.S. Senator for a state I have made my home and honored by his trust in me to serve the people of California and this great nation. 🧵
— Laphonza Butler (@LaphonzaB) October 2, 2023
“It will likely go through, but it was really shortsighted of Newsom and his staff to overlook that and not even strike it out early in the press release,” continued Dana. “Instead, they made the decision appear rash rather than calculated, which is what it was. They needed a prominent black woman willing to be Senator for just over a year, and she not only ticked off all the boxes, she added more by being LGBT and a friend to the Democratic party.”
“But right now, she is getting the same heat Bobby Kennedy did in the 60’s and Hillary Clinton did 20 years ago for switching quickly to another state to run for Senate. She had moved to California in 2009, then moved out in 2021. And now she is back for this? If she was fine as a replacement, she wouldn’t be deleting a ton of stuff about her on the internet or suspiciously pointing out in statements that she is a California resident.”
While the Butler situation has continued to simmer, it was announced on Monday that Feinstein, already flown back from the District, would be lying in state at San Francisco City Hall on Wednesday. A funeral service is then to follow on Thursday at the San Francisco War Memorial and Performing Arts Center in the Herbst Theater.
As of Monday morning, Newsom still plans to have Butler be the new interim Senator for California later this month.