Barbara Lee on Laphonza Butler: 'I wish her well'

Rep. Barbara Lee said Monday that she’s looking forward to working with Laphonza Butler as California’s newly appointed senator, but she’s still focused on winning the Senate seat in 2024.

“I wish her well and look forward to working with her to deliver for our golden state,” Lee (D-Calif.) said on CNN Monday. “I’m very focused on winning this election, though. … People underestimate what we have going on for us in my campaign.”

POLITICO first reported on Sunday that California Gov. Gavin Newsom would appoint Butler to the Senate seat following Sen. Dianne Feinstein’s death last week. Butler is president of EMILY’s List and a veteran organizer who is well-known in Newsom’s orbit.

Newsom pledged in 2021 to name a Black woman to Feinstein’s seat in the event that she resigned after he faced pressure to fill Kamala Harris’ Senate seat with a Black woman after she became vice president but opted to tap Alex Padilla instead. The California governor avoided getting caught up in the 2024 Senate contest between rival Reps. Katie Porter, Adam Schiff and Lee by appointing Butler.

Lee had spent years aiming for the possible Senate appointment but learned in recent weeks that Newsom was intent on not picking a candidate, prompting her to sharply rebuke his public pronouncement.

“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 earlier this month.

Newsom made his appointment this week without putting limitations or preconditions on his pick to run for the seat in 2024 — meaning Butler could decide to join the race for a full term. She has not indicated thus far if she plans to do so or not.

“We have been pushing from day one that any African American woman who he appointed should have the right and opportunity to run,” Lee said on CNN. “And so we were glad that he made that decision to open that up and to back off of the restriction that was placed.”

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