Rep. Barbara Lee Says She'd Accept Senate Seat Appointment, if Newsom Chose Her

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An African American woman smiles toward the camera.
Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.) seen at a news conference with the Pro-Choice Caucus outside the US Capitol, on Jan. 26, 2023. (Tom Williams/CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images)

With calls for Sen. Dianne Feinstein to resign her Senate seat growing, East Bay U.S. Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Oakland) told KQED today that she would accept an appointment to the job, if Gov. Gavin Newsom offered it to her.

Feinstein is at home in San Francisco recovering from shingles, but her absence from the Judiciary Committee, which is evenly divided between Republicans and Democrats, means her party is unable to vote on dozens of President Biden’s judicial nominees and send them to the full Senate for a confirmation vote.

“I am really hoping and praying that Senator Feinstein has a speedy and full recovery,” Lee said. “And the concern right now for me personally is about her health.”

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In 2021, Newsom said that if Feinstein’s seat opened up before the end of her term in 2024, he would appoint a Black woman to fill the position.

Pressed on whether she would accept such an appointment if it were offered, Lee said, “I’m running for it and I certainly want to win in a race, so certainly. But what I’m saying to you is that’s premature. We’re hoping for a speedy recovery for Senator Feinstein. And I’m continuing to run in this election to win.”

Some have suggested that with the Senate race underway, it would be unfair to the other candidates — and possibly voters who support them — for Newsom to pick Lee over Adam Schiff (D-Burbank) and Katie Porter (D-Irvine), and that selecting a Black woman as a caretaker who would not herself run for the job makes more sense.

When asked about that, Lee simply reiterated that “I’m focusing on getting endorsements. I’m focusing on raising money and I’m focusing on winning this race.”

In her campaign for Feinstein’s seat, Lee is making the absence of any Black women in the U.S. Senate a cornerstone of her message to voters.

Lee’s campaign against better-known and better-financed Democrats, Schiff and Porter, is something of an uphill battle. According to campaign finance filings, Schiff raised $6.5 million in the first quarter of the year, while Porter raised $4.5 million, to just $1.5 million for Lee.

But if Lee were to accept an appointment from the governor, it would allow her to run for election as a sitting U.S. senator, giving her chances a considerable boost.

Earlier this week Feinstein said she is asking Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer to temporarily name another Democrat to the Judiciary Committee until she is able to return to work. However, that might be easier said than done, as it would require cooperation from at least some Senate Republicans, who would be under pressure not to help Democrats confirm judges whom the vast majority of Republicans oppose.