Gov. Newsom's office says he'll name Laphonza Butler, former Kamala Harris adviser, to Feinstein Senate seat

California Gov. Gavin Newsom's office says he'll name Laphonza Butler, a former adviser to Vice President Kamala Harris during her 2020 presidential campaign, to Sen. Dianne Feinstein's Senate seat after she died Thursday.

Newsom's selection of Butler fulfills a pledge he made to appoint a Black woman to the position after he selected Sen. Alex Padilla to fill the Senate seat left open after Harris departed to the vice presidency.  

Butler's appointment will make her the only Black woman serving in the Senate and the first openly LGBTQ person to represent California.

Butler is the president of EMILY's List, a political action committee that helps elect Democratic female candidates who support abortion rights.

Butler has worked in politics for nearly two decades and was appointed to the University of California Board of Regents by former Gov. Jerry Brown in 2018. She resigned from the position in 2021 when she accepted her role with EMILY's List.

Butler grew up in Mississippi and currently resides in Maryland. She moved to the Washington, D.C. area when she accepted her position with EMILY's List in 2021. 

"Butler is a longtime California resident and homeowner," Newsom's office said regarding her residency, adding Butler will reregister in California before being sworn in. 

Butler's residency issue irked California Assembly Republican Leader James Gallagher (R-Yuba City).

"Out of 40 million California residents, Gavin Newsom seriously couldn’t find one to serve in the Senate? Californians deserve real representation, not a political favor for a well-connected campaign operative who doesn’t even live here," Gallagher said in a press release.

Butler served as the president of the SEIU California for six years, and in various senior positions for the union for over a decade.

Butler also served as a senior adviser to Hillary Clinton during her 2016 presidential run, and as the director of public policy and campaigns for Airbnb, according to her LinkedIn page. 

In a statement Sunday night, Newsom said Butler will represent "the best of California."

"As we mourn the enormous loss of Senator Feinstein, the very freedoms she fought for – reproductive freedom, equal protection, and safety from gun violence –  have never been under greater assault," Newsom said. "Laphonza will carry the baton left by Senator Feinstein, continue to break glass ceilings, and fight for all Californians in Washington D.C."

However, Newsom faced mounting pressure to select Rep. Barbara Lee to the position and received a letter on Sunday from the Congressional Black Caucus to appoint Lee to the position. 

"She is the only person with the courage, the vision, and the record to eradicate poverty, face down the fossil fuel industry, defend our democracy, and tirelessly advance the progressive agenda," wrote CBC President Rep. Steven Horsford (D-Nevada) in a letter to Newsom.

Feinstein previously said she would not seek reelection in 2024, and Newsom said he would not appoint one of the three Democratic front runners – Rep. Barbara Lee, Rep. Katie Porter, and Rep. Adam Schiff – to fill her seat should Feinstein be unable to fulfill her full term. 

"It would be completely unfair to Democrats that have worked their tail off, with a primary just a matter of months away," Newsom said on "Meet the Press," last month.

Lee issued a statement on Butler's selection through her campaign office, saying she wishes Butler the best and looks forward to working with her.

"I am singularly focused on winning my campaign for Senate," Lee said. "Voters in this state deserve an experienced representative who is going to cut taxes for the middle class, eradicate poverty, fight corporate greed, protect reproductive freedom, invest in affordable housing, and defend our democracy. That’s exactly what I’m running to do."

The Associated Press contributed to this report.