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Dianne Feinstein’s Passing Sparks the Question: Whom Will Governor Newsom Appoint as Her Successor?

The passing of Senator Dianne Feinstein, a venerable Californian legislator with a legacy spanning over three decades, reverberated across the corridors of power in her home state and the hallowed halls of Washington, D.C. With more than a year remaining in Feinstein’s term, Governor Gavin Newsom finds himself confronted with the weighty responsibility of appointing her replacement. This prospect, initially brushed aside as a conjectural scenario just weeks ago, now looms as a contentious endeavor, given that a competitive race to inherit Feinstein’s mantle has been well underway for several months.

Senator Dianne Feinstein
Senator Dianne Feinstein

A spokesperson from the governor’s office, as of this morning, remains bereft of information regarding Newsom’s intentions or a timeline for his decision. Nonetheless, Newsom, a fellow Democrat, offered effusive praise for Feinstein in a statement, extolling her as “a paragon of leadership during tumultuous times.”

Newsom remarked, “She was a political colossus, whose resolve was equaled only by her elegance. She shattered boundaries and surmounted barriers, yet her commitment to the essence of political collaboration never wavered.”

This marks Newsom’s second appointment to the United States Senate. In December 2020, he selected his longstanding confidant, Alex Padilla, as California’s inaugural Latino senator, succeeding then-Senator Kamala Harris, who ascended to the vice presidency. Padilla subsequently secured a full six-year term.

Nonetheless, this decision stirred disquiet among certain activists who noted that Newsom’s choice once again left the Senate devoid of African-American representation. Subsequently, in a commitment made during an appearance on MSNBC, the governor pledged to designate an African-American woman to occupy Feinstein’s seat if he did not complete his term.

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This vow returned to haunt Newsom as Feinstein’s health challenges became public knowledge, including a dermatological ailment that prompted her temporary withdrawal from Senate duties in the spring. Speculation regarding Newsom’s impending decision intensified, particularly during interviews with national media outlets.

Earlier this month, the governor declared on NBC’s “Meet the Press” that he would select an interim senator if necessary, as he preferred to abstain from interfering in the impending primary election. Nevertheless, he remained resolute in his commitment to the election of an African-American woman.

This stance ignited the ire of Representative Barbara Lee, a Democratic contender from Oakland vying for Feinstein’s seat. Lee currently trails behind Representatives Adam Schiff of Burbank and Katie Porter of Irvine in public opinion polls for the March primaries. Advocates for Lee have positioned her as a natural choice for the vacancy, given her status as one of California’s most prominent African-American politicians.

Lee vehemently criticized Newsom, characterizing his tentative strategy as “an affront to the countless African American women.” In response, a spokesperson for the governor contended that his statements revolved around “speculation stacked upon speculation.” Consequently, two of Newsom’s long-standing political advisors disassociated themselves from a super PAC committee devoted to electing Lee.

The hypothetical scenario has now transformed into a stark reality. Feinstein’s demise not only amplifies the pressure on Governor Newsom but also places Senate Democrats, who maintain a slender majority in the chamber, in a precarious position. Feinstein had served on the Judiciary Committee, which holds authority over judicial appointments. Many Democrats now harbor apprehensions that Republicans may obstruct the confirmation of a successor, impeding President Biden’s ability to appoint additional judges during his initial term in office.

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