In a delicate situation, California Governor Gavin Newsom is feeling the heat as he faces the task of selecting a replacement for the late Senator Dianne Feinstein, a decision that carries significant weight due to the Democrats’ slim majority in the U.S. Senate. As a two-term governor with his own national aspirations, Newsom finds himself in a tricky position.
The Democrats' delicate majority in the U.S. Senate is putting extra pressure on California Gov. Gavin Newsom to quickly pick a replacement for Sen. Dianne Feinstein after her death. https://t.co/tNzSlmwwDs
— The Associated Press (@AP) September 29, 2023
Amid concerns about Feinstein’s declining health, Newsom had previously promised to appoint a Black woman in 2021. He had also expressed his desire to avoid candidates who were already campaigning for the position, such as Rep. Barbara Lee, a highly visible Black woman serving in elected office in the state.
However, soon after Feinstein’s death, Newsom faced mounting pressure to uphold his commitment, with calls specifically urging him to select Lee. This presents a challenging dynamic for Newsom, as he navigates the expectations of a key Democratic constituency.
Newsom’s allies and advisers have remained largely silent on his thought process, and the governor has made efforts to avoid public appearances that would inevitably lead to questions about his imminent decision.
While choosing a replacement for Harris, who became Vice President, was one of several appointments Newsom made in late 2020 and early 2021, this task is less desirable for him and he has openly expressed his reluctance towards it.
As the sole authority to name a successor, Newsom does have the option to choose himself, although that scenario is unlikely. Another possibility would be to call for a special election, although it is not expected that he will choose this route. For now, Newsom has avoided the issue, releasing a statement honoring Feinstein’s memory and highlighting her impact.
Feinstein’s passing has left Senate Democrats with no margin for error until a successor is appointed, considering they currently hold only 50 seats compared to the Republicans’ 49. The absence of Feinstein also adds difficulty in advancing President Biden’s judicial nominees within the Judiciary Committee.
For Newsom, any decision he makes carries the risk of alienating key allies at home, potentially affecting his future national ambitions. If he follows through on his promise to avoid selecting from the current Senate primary candidates, he could opt for a temporary appointee who would be replaced by the candidate elected in next year’s election. Some Black women currently in office, including Secretary of State Shirley Weber and Los Angeles County Supervisor Holly Mitchell, have been mentioned as potential choices.
However, Lee and others have criticized Newsom for considering a caretaker rather than selecting from the existing candidate pool. Lee expressed her disappointment on social media, stating that appointing a Black woman as a mere caretaker would be disrespectful to the countless Black women who have played a vital role in the Democratic Party’s victories.
Newsom’s last Senate appointment, choosing Alex Padilla as replacement for Harris, drew criticism from California Democrats who felt that a Black woman should have been chosen. This history further complicates Newsom’s decision-making process.
Adding to the complexity is Newsom’s personal relationship with Feinstein, whom he has known since childhood and considers family. Their connection goes beyond politics, as Feinstein would often reach out to him to discuss various issues. Newsom’s intimate ties to the late senator leave him feeling ill-equipped to make an objective decision.
In this precarious and politically charged situation, Newsom faces the challenge of balancing the demands of his constituency, his personal connections, and the impact on his own political future. Only time will tell how he navigates this decision and the consequences it may carry.