Butler — like Harris before her — now carries the pressure of being the only Black woman in the Senate, also breaking barriers for LGBTQ+ representation in the process
California Gov. Gavin Newsom announced Butler, 44, as the state's new U.S. senator late Sunday night, just three days after Feinstein died at the age of 90.
"Laphonza has spent her entire career fighting for women and girls and has been a fierce advocate for working people," Newsom wrote on in a statement posted to X Sunday. "From her time as President of EMILY's List to leading the state's largest labor union, she has always stood up for what is right and has led with her heart and her values."
Butler, who was joined by her wife Neneki Lee at the swearing-in ceremony, makes history as the first Black lesbian to openly serve in the U.S. Senate, and the first openly LGBTQ+ person to represent California in the Senate.
She is also only the third Black woman to serve in the upper chamber — the second was Harris — and carries the pressure of being the only Black woman currently serving.
The Democratic strategist is currently the president of EMILY’s List, an American political action committee that, per its website, "aims to help elect Democratic female candidates in favor of abortion rights to office." She also previously led the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), an influential labor union, and previously worked as an advisor to Harris' 2020 presidential campaign (Harris withdrew from the race prior to the primaries, before being selected as Joe Biden's running mate).
Butler will serve out the remainder of Feinstein's term, which ends in January 2025, and will also be eligible to campaign for the 2024 election. Whether she will run for a full term is undecided, and a number of big-name Democratic lawmakers — including Reps. Adam Schiff, Katie Porter and Barbara Lee — have announced their own campaigns for the seat.
Feinstein, a Democrat from California, was the longest-serving female senator in U.S. history and the oldest sitting member of Congress at the time of her death. She was elected to the Senate in 1992, embarking on a congressional career during which she authored the federal Assault Weapons Ban in 1994 (which expired in 2014) and served as a leading voice for the legalization of gay marriage in 2015.
In an official statement her chief of staff, James Sauls, said Feinstein died at her Washington, D.C. home, adding: "Her passing is a great loss for so many, from those who loved and cared for her to the people of California that she dedicated her life to serving."
Butler was one of the many voices praising Feinstein after her death.
"I'm saddened to hear of the passing of Sen. Dianne Feinstein," she wrote on X. "Not only was she a titan in the Senate, but a legendary figure for women in politics and around the country. Her legacy and achievements will not be forgotten. My prayers are with her family. She will be deeply missed."
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