In & Out: Laphonza Butler sworn in to US Senate & Rep. Kevin McCarthy dumped as House speaker

[Note from BenIndy: Apologies for putting two major news updates in one post, but not only are these both important stories, they are also worthy of juxtaposition.]

Who is Laphonza Butler, the newest senator from California?

Laphonza Butler was sworn in Tuesday as a new U.S. senator representing California, replacing Sen. Dianne Feinstein, who died last week at the age of 90. Vice President Kamala Harris administered the oath of office at the ceremony in the U.S. Capitol.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said afterwards that Feinstein is “looking down at this moment with pride now that her seat is in good hands.”President Biden called Butler to congratulate her, the White House said.

Butler, a Democrat, was sworn in less than 48 hours after California Gov. Gavin Newsom announced her appointment.

Butler tweeted on Monday that she was “honored” to accept Newsom’s appointment and said, “I am ready to serve.”She stepped down from her role as the president of EMILYs List, a Democratic group dedicated to electing women who support abortion rights, to accept the Senate appointment.In choosing Butler, Newsom kept a 2021 promise to appoint a Black woman to the role. Feinstein’s seat is up for reelection in 2024, and three prominent House Democrats — Reps. Katie Porter, Adam Schiff and Barbara Lee — have already announced they are running.Butler will also serve as the crucial 51st vote for Senate Democrats, who have a slim majority in the upper chamber and are defending several seats in red states in 2024.

Butler will only be the third Black woman to serve in the Senate. Carol Moseley Braun of Illinois was the first, serving from 1993 to 1999. Harris was the second, from 2017 until becoming vice president in 2021. Butler was as a senior adviser on Harris’ 2020 presidential campaign.

Butler is the second openly lesbian woman in the Senate, and the first Black lesbian woman in the Senate. She and her wife, Neneki, have a daughter named Nylah. Although Maryland voting records seen by CBS News show a Laphonza Butler of Silver Spring registered to vote in that state, Newsom’s office said Monday that Butler will re-register in California, where she owns a home, when she is sworn in.

Sen. Laphonza Butler, D-Calif., raises her right hand, with her wife Neneki Lee looking on, as Vice President Kamala Harris recites the oath during her ceremonial swearing-in in the Old Senate Chamber in Washington, D.C. on Oct. 3, 2023. | Bill Clark for CQ-Roll Call, Inc., via Getty Images.

What is Laphonza Butler’s professional background?

According to her biography from EMILYs List, Butler grew up in Magnolia, Mississippi, and attended Jackson State University, a historically Black university.

In an interview with Elle in 2021, Butler said that her family wasn’t the kind “that talked about elections or politics at the dinner table, but we were the family that talked about what it meant to be in service to others. What do we do to help somebody?”

In that same interview, she said that while she was working with the SEIU labor union, she was able to “connect it with the jobs my mom had.”

“There have been parallels in my career and what I knew my mom experienced as a worker herself,” Butler said. “I always felt like the work I’ve done has been my opportunity to continue my mom’s journey and to make those jobs better for the children of those workers.”

At the age of 30, Butler was elected the president of the biggest union in California, and the nation’s largest homecare workers union, SEIU Local 2015. She also served as SEIU International’s vice president and president of the SEIU California State Council.

Butler’s biography says she spent 20 years in the labor movement, including working on the campaign to raise the minimum hourly wage to $15 in California, the first state in the country to do so.

Butler was an adviser to Hillary Clinton’s 2016 presidential campaign.

In 2018, Butler and political consultants Ace Smith, Sean Clegg and Juan Rodriguez formed the political consulting firm SCRB Strategies. Rodriguez ran Harris’ primary 2020 campaign, with Butler as senior adviser.

After Harris left the race, Butler served as director of public policy and campaigns in North America for Airbnb.

Laphonza Butler speaks onstage at the Emily’s List 6th Annual Pre-Oscar Breakfast held at the Beverly Hills Hilton on March 7, 2023 in Beverly Hills, California. | Photo by Gilbert Flores for Variety via Getty Images.

What did Butler do with EMILYs List?

Until being appointed to the Senate, Butler served as the president of EMILYs List, the group that supports women in office who support abortion rights. She was the first woman of color to hold that position.

EMILYs List is fundraising juggernaut for Democrats, having raised nearly $68 million in the 2022 election cycle, according to OpenSecrets.

Butler told the news organization Capital B News in an interview in Feb. 2022 that after the 2016 election, “more than 60,000 women reached out to us from all over the country and wanted to offer themselves for public service.”

“From a tactical point, we have created online communities for them to connect with each other, we have offered online training and made it accessible no matter what community that person is reaching out to us from, we have made sure that we are working to expand the state and local work of EMILYs List,” she said.

EMILYs List issued a statement on Monday praising Butler as a “groundbreaking leader.”

According to the statement from Newsom’s office, Butler will step down from her role at EMILYs List when she joins the Senate.

Kevin McCarthy ousted as speaker in Republican-led House in historic vote

Politico, by Katherine Tully-McManus, September


    • The final vote was 216-210, with nearly all Democrats joining eight conservatives
    • Rep. Patrick McHenry is now the acting speaker. He has all the powers of an elected speaker of the House and was hand-picked by McCarthy as speaker pro tempore in January.

McCarthy out as speaker

For the first time in history, the House has deposed its speaker.

Democrats joined with Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.) and his small group of conservative allies to vote to strip Kevin McCarthy of his gavel Tuesday. It’s unclear who would succeed McCarthy long term, though his allies expect he will try to run for speaker again and members pledged to continue supporting him.

“We’re perfectly happy to drag this out as long as it takes,” said Rep. David Valadao (R-Calif.), a McCarthy ally. “We’re all going to be there for the speaker as long as he wants us to be.”

“I’ll continue to support Kevin McCarthy as long as he’s running,” echoed Rep. Kevin Hern (R-Okla.)

The House clerk announced Rep. Patrick McHenry (R-N.C.) would act as a temporary speaker immediately after the vote concluded. McHenry was selected from a secret list of McCarthy’s hand-picked successors. The Californian’s ally will have all the authority of a regularly elected speaker. There are several questions surrounding that acting speaker, as House rules don’t specifically lay out how soon a new speaker ballot would need to occur.

Eight Republicans voted against McCarthy: Reps. Eli Crane (Ariz.), Ken Buck (Colo.), Andy Biggs (Ariz.), Matt Rosendale (Mont.), Matt Gaetz (Fla.), Bob Good (Va.), Nancy Mace (S.C.) and Tim Burchett (Tenn.).

Three House leaders have been floated as potential long-term replacements: Majority Leader Steve Scalise (R-La.), Whip Tom Emmer (R-Minn.) and Conference Chair Elise Stefanik (R-N.Y.). All three have disavowed any interest in replacing McCarthy — a reality that could change now that the Californian is officially out.

McCarthy’s long-running troubles with his right flank became a full-fledged rebellion in recent days after he called up a stopgap spending patch on Saturday that averted a shutdown without imposing any of the spending cuts or conservative border policies that he’d vowed to push. More Democrats than Republicans voted for that short-term spending bill, essentially guaranteeing the conservative pushback against the speaker.

The last time the House moved to try to evict a speaker was 1910, and the move has never before succeeded.