California Gov. Gavin Newsom announced his appointment of Laphonza Butler, president of the abortion advocacy group Emily's List, to California's U.S. Senate seat left vacant by the recent death of Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein.
The appointment of an abortion advocate to succeed Feinstein brought criticism from one prominent pro-life leader, Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of SBA Pro-Life America, who said, "The last thing Washington needs is another rubber stamp for the brutal abortion industry."
Butler, also a Democratic strategist and former adviser to Vice President Kamala Harris' 2020 presidential campaign, will be the only Black woman in the upper chamber and the first person who identifies openly as LGBTQ+ to represent California as a U.S. senator.
In an Oct. 1 statement, Newsom said, "An advocate for women and girls, a second-generation fighter for working people, and a trusted adviser to Vice President Harris, Laphonza Butler represents the best of California, and she'll represent us proudly in the United States Senate."
"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."
Butler is expected to serve in the Senate until next year, when voters in California will vote in primary and general special elections to complete the remainder of Feinstein’s term, followed by the state's regular 2024 primary and general elections for a new term beginning in 2025.
Emily's List is a political organization that supports Democratic women candidates who support legal abortion. It has a reputation as a fundraising powerhouse in Democratic politics.
After reports of Newsom's selection of Butler, some observers noted that her biographical information on the Emily's List website stated that she lived in Maryland, as did recent Federal Election Commission filings. But Newsom's office reportedly said Butler was living in the Washington area in her capacity as president of Emily's List, but she owns a home in California and will re-register as a California voter before being sworn in as a senator from that state.
In her statement, Dannenfelser argued Newsom has rewarded a "pro-abortion activist" and Democratic fundraiser with a Senate seat.
"The abortion lobby spends millions to elect Democrats who back its agenda of abortion on demand through all nine months of pregnancy, paid for by taxpayers," Dannenfelser said.
"Democrats like Newsom, in turn, are beholden to the abortion lobby. The pay-to-play system couldn't be more obvious, with an unelected Senate seat as the ultimate reward. Newsom even passed over staunch pro-abortion candidates who reside in California, in favor of a Beltway insider and the biggest pro-abortion extremist he could find," she said.
Accusing President Joe Biden of heading "the most radical pro-abortion administration in history," Dannenfelser said, "Voters need to realize the days of 'safe, legal and rare' are gone -- today's Democratic Party stands for abortion any time, for any reason with no limits up to birth."
"Republicans should stand up for life and embrace at least minimum national protections at 15 weeks, when babies in the womb feel pain, and go on offense to contrast themselves with their opponents' extremism," she said.
In a statement issued through Emily's List, Butler said, "I am honored to accept Gov. Newsom's nomination to be a U.S. Senator for a state I have long called home. I am humbled by the Governor's trust. Sen. Dianne Feinstein's leadership and legacy are immeasurable. I will do my best to honor her by devoting my time and energy to serving the people of California and the people of this great nation."
Butler called leaving Emily's List "bittersweet," adding, "I have been proud of the work we have done and am grateful to all of the members of the Board, the staff, our donors, and candidates who work every day to ensure more Democratic pro-choice women can run, win, and change the world."
"For women and girls, for workers and unions, for struggling parents waiting for our leaders to bring opportunity back to their homes, for all of California, I'm ready to serve," she said.
The late Feinstein died the evening of Sept. 28 at her Washington residence, according to her office. She was 90. Feinstein was known as the author of the 1994 assault weapons ban, chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee and ranking member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, as well as a prominent Senate investigator of the CIA's use of torture after the 9/11 attacks. She was the oldest member of the Senate, as well as the longest-serving female senator and the longest-serving senator from California.
Prior to her death, she had previously announced she would not seek another term amid declining health and calls for her retirement.
But even prior to that announcement, a primary race for her seat was already underway. Butler could become a formidable force in that race should she choose to seek a full term. Other candidates for the Senate seat are Democratic U.S. Reps. Adam Schiff, Barbara Lee and Katie Porter of California.