Sen. Kamala Harris broke barriers as America’s first female, first Black and first South Asian vice president-elect. But after her exit in January to join the Biden administration, there will be no Black women in the Senate.
Harris’s departure left lawmakers and advocates urging California Gov. Gavin Newsom to choose a Black woman to replace her due to a lack of diversity in the chamber. And while his appointment on Tuesday of Secretary of State Alex Padilla as California’s first Latino senator was historic, it comes with the reality that the 117th Congress will have no Black women in the upper chamber.
“When you think about the history of this country, of the challenges that exist for African Americans … this is a real blow to the African-American community, to African-American women, to women in general,” San Francisco Mayor London Breed said during a Covid-19 briefing on Tuesday. “And it’s really challenging to put it in words.”
Taisha Brown, chair of the California Democratic Party Black Caucus, told The Sacramento Bee that “we (are) incredibly hurt and disappointed in the governor’s decision. Through a stroke of a pen, his actions have denied a Black female representation in the United States Senate.”
Competing pressures to diversify the Senate
Newsom’s decision to pick his close political ally over other top contenders, such as Reps. Karen Bass and Barbara Lee, comes after what was described as a difficult decision-making process as the governor weighed the competing pressures of the desire to see the first Latino from California in the US Senate and the chamber’s lack of Black representation.
Newsom tweeted that Padilla’s appointment would make history, and added that Padilla “is far more interested in changing history — especially for the working men and women of our state and country.”
CNN has reached out to Newsom’s office for comment on the criticism of his decision.
There are currently 25 women, including four women of color, serving in the US Senate and 101 women, including 44 women of color — 22 of whom are Black — serving in the House of Representatives. Harris is only the second Black woman senator in US history, with former Illinois Sen. Carol Moseley Braun becoming the first to serve in the chamber in 1993.
Advocates want more Black women in Biden’s administration
President-elect Joe Biden is also facing widespread calls to appoint more Black women to hold positions in his Cabinet, marking the latest layer of growing pressure on Biden and Harris to diversify their administration.
So far, Biden has appointed a handful of Black women to serve in a high-profile role as one of his top advisers, such as Rep. Marcia Fudge of Ohio as Housing and Urban Development secretary and Princeton economist Cecilia Rouse as chair of the Council of Economic Advisers.
A number of the administration’s picks would make history if confirmed by the Senate, including retired Army Gen. Lloyd Austin as the nation’s first Black Defense Secretary.