NATIONAL NEWS

California’s Newsom faces tough question: Who would replace Feinstein?

May 22, 2023, 10:04 PM

FILE - Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., is assisted to a wheelchair by staff as she returns to the ...

FILE - Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., is assisted to a wheelchair by staff as she returns to the Senate after a more than two-month absence, at the Capitol in Washington, Wednesday, May 10, 2023. Feinstein's ongoing medical struggles have raised a sensitive political question with no easy answer: Who would California Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom pick to replace her if the seat became vacant? (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite, File)
Credit: ASSOCIATED PRESS

(AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite, File)

LOS ANGELES (AP) — U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein’s ongoing medical struggles have raised a sensitive political question with no easy answer: Who would California Gov. Gavin Newsom pick to replace her if the seat becomes vacant?

Despite calls from within her own party to resign, Feinstein, who turns 90 next month and is the oldest member of Congress, has given no indication that she is considering stepping down. Her frail appearance, confused interactions with reporters in Washington and the growing list of health challenges disclosed by her office continue to fan questions about her fitness for the job — now and into the future.

Should a vacancy occur, a range of names, from obscure to famous — including Oprah Winfrey — have been floated in California circles as possible replacements. Newsom, who is mentioned as a possible future presidential contender, would also have to deal with political complexities, some of his own making: In 2021 he a 2024 Senate campaign is underway to fill the seat when the senator’s term ends in January 2025.

The situation has created a sad, public coda for the groundbreaking career of a Democratic leader who shattered gender barriers in California and Washington.

Here’s a look at what could happen:

WHAT IS THE STATUS OF FEINSTEIN’S HEALTH?

In short, much is unknown.

Feinstein returned to the Senate on May 10 — about 10 weeks after being diagnosed, then briefly hospitalized, with shingles in San Francisco. On her return to the Capitol, she was markedly thinner and one side of her face was drooping, apparently from Ramsay Hunt syndrome, which can occur when the shingles virus reaches a facial nerve near the ears. It also can cause hearing loss.

On the advice of doctors, Feinstein’s staff say she is working a lighter schedule as she deals with side effects from the virus, including vision and balance problems. She has been using a wheelchair to get to her office and committee meetings.

Questions have been raised in recent years about Feinstein’s memory and mental acuity, though she has defended her effectiveness. Since her return to Washington, she has at times appeared confused during brief discussions with reporters. Her office also disclosed she suffered a bout of encephalitis, or inflammation of the brain, which can also be caused by shingles.

Feinstein’s biographer Jerry Roberts told the Los Angeles Times in an interview published Sunday that the senator has “a belief in herself to the point of stubbornness, where nobody is going to tell her what she can or cannot do. She has tremendous belief and confidence in her own strength and her own ability.”

NEWSOM’S PROMISE: ELEVATING A BLACK WOMAN TO SENATE

When California Sen. Kamala Harris resigned to become vice president, Newsom faced pressure from both Black, Latino and other groups over a replacement pick. Some felt that he should replace Harris, the only Black woman in the U.S. Senate, with another Black woman. But others thought it was past time for California to have its first Latino senator, and Newsom chose then-Secretary of State Alex Padilla for the job.

But he later promised that if Feinstein’s seat became vacant, he would choose a Black woman to replace her. Should Feinstein step aside, he’ll be expected to make good on the promise.

“He made the commitment and I do not believe there is any wiggle room for the governor not to honor his commitment,” said Kerman Maddox, a Los Angeles-based Democratic strategist and fundraiser who is Black.

“Newsom must honor his promise to appoint a Black woman” if Feinstein resigns, said Democratic Assemblymember Lori Wilson, who heads the Legislative Black Caucus in Sacramento. “I trust him at his word. We currently have zero Black women in the Senate, so if the opportunity becomes available the governor must act to help remedy this lack of representation.”

Claremont McKenna College political scientist Jack Pitney pointed out that any presidential ambitions that Newsom might harbor would be damaged if he backed away from his promise to name a Black woman, noting that the candidate favored by Black voters has won the Democratic Party’s presidential nomination for every cycle since 1992.

“The last thing you want to do if you are thinking about running for president is alienating the nominating wing of the Democratic Party,” Pitney said.

WHICH WAY TO TURN — CARETAKER OR CONTENDER?

In filling a Senate vacancy, Newsom has the authority to name a successor. He could even pick himself, though that is unlikely. State rules dictate when an election would have to be held.

Newsom’s choices all run risks.

He could get entangled in the ongoing Senate campaign and choose one of the declared candidates to fill a Feinstein vacancy.

Another option would be to select a caretaker, and then leave it to voters to decide in next year’s election — someone who would hold the seat but is not a Senate candidate. That’s where names like Winfrey come up — a celebrity who is Black and happens to meet Newsom’s appointment pledge. However, Newsom also might find it challenging to land on someone willing to take a short-term appointment.

If he picked one of the declared Senate candidates, Newsom would unsettle the growing field and elevate that person to frontrunner status. U.S. Rep. Barbara Lee, who is Black, is already running against fellow Democratic Reps. Katie Porter and Adam Schiff, who both are white.

Lee “is far and away the most qualified African American woman to replace Sen. Feinstein if a vacancy becomes available,” Maddox said.

In a recent interview with Fox 11 TV in Los Angeles, Newsom said he was being swamped with recommendations for how to fill a possible Senate vacancy. He calls Feinstein a mentor and one of his closest friends, and said he was hoping he never had to make a decision to fill her seat.

He noted that the primary was quickly approaching in March, and added that he was sensitive to criticism that voters should be picking their elected officials, hinting that he might choose a caretaker to hold the spot, if one occurs.

“I get it. For those who say, ‘Enough of Newsom making these picks!’ I get it. I’m with you. I understand,” he said.

National News

Associated Press

Border arrests plunge 29% in June to the lowest of Biden’s presidency as asylum halt takes hold

SAN DIEGO (AP) — Arrests for illegally crossing the border from Mexico plunged 29% in June, the lowest month of Joe Biden’s presidency, according to figures released Monday that provide another window on the impact of a new rule to temporarily suspend asylum. Arrests totaled 83,536 in June, down from 117,901 in May to mark […]

12 minutes ago

Photo: A delegate wears a hat with pins during the Republican National Convention Monday, July 15, ...

Christine Fernando, Steve People and Jill Colvin, The Associated Press

Rep. Walsh speaks for Washington as cheering GOP delegates nominate Trump for president

Cheering GOP delegates formally nominated Donald Trump for president at Monday's Republican National Convention kickoff.

17 minutes ago

FILE - People walk past May Hall, the main administrative building at Dickinson State University in...

Associated Press

President of Dickinson State University in North Dakota resigns after nursing faculty quit

DICKINSON, N.D. (AP) — The president of Dickinson State University in North Dakota announced his resignation on Monday, days after the school’s nursing faculty quit. In a video, Steve Easton announced his departure and acknowledged “turmoil between some in the faculty and the administration.” Seven faculty members resigned Wednesday, KFYR-TV reported. Former Assistant Professor of […]

26 minutes ago

Associated Press

FACT FOCUS: A look at false claims around the assassination attempt on former President Trump

The assassination attempt on former President Donald Trump, who is running for reelection, is fueling a range of false claims and conspiracy theories as authorities seek information about the 20-year-old shooter’s background and motive, how he obtained the AR-style rifle he fired at Trump and security at the venue that failed to stop the shooting. […]

43 minutes ago

FILE - Christina Osborn and her children, Alexander Osborn and Bella Araiza, visit a makeshift memo...

Associated Press

Judge clears way for demolition of Texas church where 26 people were killed in 2017 shooting

FLORESVILLE, Texas (AP) — A judge on Monday cleared the way for the demolition of the small Texas church in Sutherland Springs where a gunman killed more than two dozen worshippers in 2017 in what remains the deadliest church shooting in U.S. history. Following the shooting at First Baptist Church of Sutherland Springs, the church […]

50 minutes ago

RNC Chair Michael Whatley speaks during the Republican National Convention Monday, July 15, 2024, i...

Associated Press

Outside RNC, conservative group defends its Project 2025 guidebook as Democrats ramp up attacks

MILWAUKEE (AP) — At the edge of the cordoned-off perimeter around the Republican National Convention on Monday, hundreds of conservatives filed into the ornate home of the Milwaukee Symphony to hear a parade of luminaries talk policy and Project 2025. Project 2025 is the term for the Heritage Foundation’s nearly 1,000-page handbook for the next […]

1 hour ago

California’s Newsom faces tough question: Who would replace Feinstein?