California Governor Gavin Newsom’s recent pledge to appoint a Black woman to the U.S. Senate if Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein retires early has reignited a debate within the Democratic Party. Newsom’s commitment to appoint a “caretaker” Black woman senator, a temporary replacement who won’t run in the 2024 elections, has drawn sharp criticism from U.S. Rep. Barbara Lee.
Newsom initially promised to fill any early vacancy left by Feinstein with a Black woman in 2021. This pledge followed the governor’s decision not to nominate a Black woman to replace then-Sen. Kamala Harris, who left the Senate to serve as Vice President. The issue has gained urgency in recent weeks, as bipartisan calls for Feinstein’s early retirement increase amid concerns over her declining health and performance.
In a recent appearance on NBC’s Meet the Press, Newsom reiterated his promise but added that his appointment would be only an “interim” senator, thus not influencing the outcome of the 2024 election for that seat. In agreement with host Chuck Todd, Newsom admitted that the potential appointee would serve as a “caretaker” senator, a role meant to be temporary.
The plan has not sat well with Rep. Barbara Lee, who has served California in the House of Representatives for a quarter-century and has declared her intent to run for Feinstein’s Senate seat in 2024. On Sunday, Lee released a pointed statement, asserting that Newsom’s proposal was “insulting” to Black women.
“The idea that a Black woman should be appointed only as a caretaker to simply check a box is insulting to countless Black women across this country who have carried the Democratic Party to victory election after election,” Lee said. She also emphasized the importance of having the perspective of Black women in the U.S. Senate for more than just a brief term, calling Newsom’s planned appointment “a token replacement.”
“Black women deserve more than a participation trophy. We need a seat at the table,” Lee’s statement concluded.
The tension between Newsom and Lee serves as the latest chapter in an evolving dynamic between the two California Democrats. Lee was among the candidates Newsom bypassed when he had an opportunity to replace Kamala Harris. Given Newsom’s recent “caretaker” pledge, it appears that Lee’s previous status as a front-runner to succeed Feinstein has been sidelined, at least for the interim appointment.
As the discussion around this Senate seat continues to unfold, the issue spotlights the integral yet underacknowledged role that Black women have played in the Democratic Party. With Newsom committed to his position and Lee planning a Senate run in 2024, the debate surrounding this potential appointment promises to remain a contentious topic within the party.