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Laphonza Butler sworn in to US Senate to fill Dianne Feinstein’s seat


Laphonza Butler sworn in to US Senate to fill Dianne Feinstein’s seat

Butler becomes only the third Black female senator in history, following the death of Feinstein last week at age 90
In a unique and historic moment on Capitol Hill, former union leader and Democratic strategist Laphonza Butler was sworn in by Kamala Harris on Tuesday as the newest member of the Senate, replacing California Senator Dianne Feinstein after her death last week and becoming only the third Black female senator in history.

Butler, 44, was appointed by California’s governor, Gavin Newsom, on Sunday, just two days after Feinstein died at her home in Washington DC. Butler is a longtime fundraiser and strategist in California’s Democratic circles and was the head of Emily’s List, a national organization that raises money for female candidates who support abortion rights.

Butler was sworn in on the floor of the Senate by the US vice-president, who served as only the second Black female senator in US history until she resigned in 2021, after ascending to the vice-presidency having been Democrat Joe Biden’s running mate in their successful 2020 election campaign. The first Black woman to serve as a US Senator was Democrat Carol Moseley Braun of Illinois in the 1990s.

The Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) also held a ceremonial swearing-in for Butler, with many members greeting her with a hug. “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 of Nevada said in a statement.

The unprecedented scene on Capitol Hill saw Harris, the nation’s first female vice-president, beaming as she swore in her fellow Black trailblazer. Butler is also the first openly lesbian Black US senator. Her wife, Neneki Lee, director of the public services division of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), held the Bible on which Butler placed her hand for the official swearing-in.

Though Butler has never held elective office, Newsom praised her “deep knowledge” of the legislative process and called her “the only choice”.

This despite criticism of him when he decided to appoint a “caretaker” to the seat, so as not to tip the scales in the 2024 race, after Feinstein had said she would step down and California representatives Katie Porter, Adam Schiff and Barbara Lee declared themselves candidates, with Lee endorsed by the CBC. Butler will have to decide relatively soon whether to throw her hat in the ring and campaign to retain the seat.


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