(Headline USA) Laphonza Butler—the Senate’s official token gay, black female and “placeholder” for white male Rep. Adam Schiff until next year’s election—was sworn in Tuesday, replacing California Sen. Dianne Feinstein after her death.
Butler, a resident of Maryland, was appointed by California Gov. Gavin Newsom on Sunday, just two days after Feinstein died at her home in Washington, fulfilling Newsom’s pledge to appoint someone based on demographic check-boxes instead of qualifications.
In picking her, however, he deftly avoided falling into the trap of appointing Rep. Barbara Lee, D-Calif., who is one of several members of Congress—along with Schiff—who has already declared their intent to run for the open seat in next year’s election. Feinstein had planned to retire, although it was unclear whether she was herself aware of having announced her intention to do so.
Butler is a longtime fundraiser and strategist in Democratic circles and was the head of Emily’s List, an abortion activist group.
The new senator was sworn in by Vice President Kamala Harris, who served as the second black female senator until she resigned in 2021 to join President Joe Biden in the White House. The first was Democratic Sen. Carol Moseley Braun of Illinois, who served one term in the 1990s.
With dozens of supporters and family members looking down from the gallery, Butler smiled broadly as she walked down the center aisle of the Senate alongside Democratic Sen. Alex Padilla of California and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y.,.
After Harris administered the oath of office, members of the Senate from both parties crowded around her to shake her hand.
Schumer said that “today, the Senate takes another step towards fully reflecting our vibrant democracy.”
He said Butler has “dedicated her entire career to fighting for others—fighting for women, fighting for working families and fighting for the cause of justice.”
After she was sworn in, Biden called her to congratulate her, the White House said.
The Congressional Black Caucus also held a ceremonial swearing-in for Butler. “Her background and years of experience will bring a much-needed perspective to the Senate, which currently does not have any Black women,” CBC Chairman Steven Horsford, D-Nev., said in a statement after she was appointed.
Butler is also the first openly LGBT senator from California.
Though she has never held elective office, Newsom praised her “deep knowledge” of the legislative process and said she was the kind of candidate he would build “if I had to literally design from my imagination.”
“She’s the only choice,” Newsom added.
Butler’s credentials include working for nearly two years with a consulting firm tied closely to Newsom and founded by his top political lieutenants. She also served as a senior adviser to Harris’s 2020 presidential campaign.
It is unclear if Butler will run to hold the seat when Feinstein’s term ends next year with the competitive race already underway among three prominent House Democrats: Schiff, Lee Rep. Katie Porter. The governor has said he didn’t want to tip the scales in the 2024 race by choosing among those candidates.
Newsom said he told Butler to “do what you think is best for you and the state of California, and you make that judgment completely independent of any expectations from me.”
After Butler was sworn in, Schumer said that Feinstein “is looking down at this moment with pride now that her seat is in good hands.”
Adapted from reporting by the Associated Press