Senator Dianne Feinstein’s death has resurfaced questions raised earlier this year about who should fill the longtime senator’s seat for the remainder of the current term, which ends in January 2025.
Feinstein, who announced she intended to retire at the end of the term, was absent from the Senate for a few months earlier this year, prompting not only calls for her resignation but also discussions of what should happen should the seat become vacant.
Gov. Gavin Newsom must now decide whom to appoint to the U.S. Senate. He can choose to leave the seat vacant, but that is unlikely to happen, given the Democrats’ very narrow majority on the Senate.
Newsom had previously pledged to appoint a Black woman to replace Feinstein should she not finish out her term after Kamala Harris’s departure for the vice presidency left no Black women in the Senate.
In comments earlier this month, he appeared to say he would only appoint a caretaker and that it would not be someone who is currently running for the full term that begins in 2025.
Rep. Barbara Lee, who is running for the full term and is Black, expressed disappointment soon after Newsom’s comments.
“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. “…Black women deserve more than a participation trophy. We need a seat at the table.”
That statement runs contrary to what Rep. Ro Khanna, a co-chair for Lee’s campaign, said earlier this year.
“Gov. Newsom can appoint a caretaker, he doesn’t have to appoint someone in the current race,” Khanna said on Fox News Sunday in April. “I would support the governor doing that. This has nothing to do with the current race, because a caretaker would solve that.”
Lee is among the leading candidates in the Senate race, with the others being Rep. Katie Porter and Rep. Adam Schiff.
California will now have two Senate elections in 2024
Whether or not Newsom appoints someone to the U.S. Senate, Feinstein’s death brings up the necessity of an additional election to fill the remainder of the current term.
With the presidential election slightly more than a year away, it is likely that the special election will be folded into that one.
In November 2024, voters will choose someone who will be sworn in soon after election day and serve until the end of the current term in January 2025, and also choose someone who will serve a full six-year term that begins that same month.
It’s the same situation that happened only a few years ago.
Newsom appointed Alex Padilla to the U.S. Senate in December 2020 after then-Senator Kamala Harris’s departure.
In November 2022, Padilla won both the partial and full-term elections, becoming California’s first Latino Senator.