Saturday, September 30, 2023

a hole in the Senate

To the death of Dianne Feinstein, I've been seeing much less in the way of admiring obituaries - and those I've seen haven't been that admiring - than discussions of the resulting vacancy in her Senate seat and how to fill it.

Some people are upset that Governor Newsom will have appointed both of California's senators. Well, the Constitution and the legislature (which has to approve this power) give him that responsibility. And though he did originally appoint Padilla, Padilla has since been elected.

This happened once before in California. Earl Warren, then governor, appointed both the sitting senators. Again, one vacancy because of a death, the other because the previous incumbent was elected Vice President. (And you remember who that was, right?) But also as in this case, the first appointee was subsequently elected before the second vacancy occurred. So I don't see too much untoward about this.

Newsom has pledged to appoint a Black woman, possibly because his previous appointment of a Hispanic man replaced a Black woman. I think it's fine if he does appoint one - there's plenty of qualified Black women in California politics: the Secretary of State is a Black woman; the mayors of both San Francisco and Los Angeles are Black women (though whether any of them would be willing to give it up for 15 months of an unrenewable Senate term is doubtful); if he wants to go hog-wild, both Oprah and Whoopi are California residents, I believe - but to say so in advance of the vacancy seems tacky in both a ghoulish and quota-fixing way. He's also said he won't appoint Barbara Lee because she's a candidate for the next term and to appoint her would give her an unfair advantage, a remark that has not won favor with Barbara Lee. (Who am I supporting? Haven't decided yet. Adam Schiff has won a lot of gold stars from me for his work on the 1/6 committee, and the Republicans hate him, which is another advantage; but his other political positions don't track mine closely.)

But what nobody seems to have mentioned is McConnell's pledge to block the seating of any Democratic replacement senator that Newsom appoints. (He could do that, because the Democrats have lost their majority with Feinstein's death.) That would be an unprecedented break in Senate norms, but unprecedented breaks in Senate norms are a regular thing for McConnell. You can't wear shorts and a hoodie, but you can do this.

Someone I spoke to about this says that the Republicans couldn't do anything if the appointee just walks in and sits down, but this isn't a social event, it's a legislative body. You aren't recognized until the body votes to do so; otherwise you're just an interloper.

As for DiFi herself, recall how her major political career began with the accident of her being the official in line to be acting mayor of when George Moscone was assassinated in 1978. Until then she only had local fame as a city supervisor, and, her previous bids to become mayor having failed, she'd been planning to retire from politics when her supervisoral term expired. Instead, she parlayed acting mayoralty into being elected for two terms. She was a controversial mayor, furiously accused of being too right-wing for the City, but she did enough other things right to survive an impeachment attempt.

Afterwards, she ran for Governor, lost, and then for Senator and won, and she's been there ever since. Again, some doubtful positions, including cozying up to faithless Republicans, but she also led some great investigations and got played by Annette Bening in a movie about doing that. I was more approving of DiFi than not, but I wish she hadn't run for her last term, because she was already fading and risked only tainting her legacy.

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