Here’s who could fill Kamala Harris’s Senate seat if she becomes VP
A Biden-Harris victory in November would shake up California politics, starting with a race to fill a vacant Senate seat.
Presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden’s selection of Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) as his running mate on Tuesday means that a number of current and former members of California’s congressional delegation could be in line for promotions if Democrats win the White House.
If Harris were elected vice president and left her Senate seat, California Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) would appoint a successor to serve the rest of the term, which lasts through 2022.
Harris is currently the only Black female senator, which could put pressure on Newsom to ensure that diversity is represented in a potential replacement.
Newsom would have a deep bench to choose from, with many California lawmakers and statewide officials already boasting national profiles.
Here’s a look at who could be on the shortlist.
Rep. Karen Bass
Bass was on Biden’s shortlist for vice president, a slot that ultimately went to Harris. But Bass shot to national prominence this summer for her efforts leading a police reform bill as the chairwoman of the Congressional Black Caucus. Before serving in the House, Bass was a community organizer who co-founded an organization to fight poverty and crime in Los Angeles and went on to become the first African American woman to serve as Speaker of a state legislature.
But it’s not just the Senate where Bass could eventually move up. Some fellow House Democrats have also floated Bass as a potential replacement for Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), most recently in 2018.
Gil Duran, a former Senate aide and opinion editor of The Sacramento Bee, noted that women have represented California in the U.S. Senate since 1993.
“We need more women in office, not fewer, and there are so many women qualified to hold the position. I think it would be really hard to justify picking a man, and this person would still would have to defend that office in a few years if Harris wins,” he said.
Rep. Adam Schiff
Schiff, the House Intelligence Committee chairman, is a household name thanks to his starring role leading the impeachment inquiry into President Trump’s dealings with Ukraine. Colleagues in California and elsewhere have said Schiff would be in a strong position for a Senate seat if a vacancy opens up.
But as a white man, Schiff wouldn’t fit the bill if diversity is a top priority for filling Harris’s seat. Serving as a junior senator might also be less appealing for Schiff than chairing a key committee in the House. And it’s possible Schiff could have options outside Congress altogether if he were tapped for an administration post leading one of the nation’s intelligence agencies.
Rep. Katie Porter
Porter may only be in her first term, but she has already gone viral numerous times for her pointed questioning of Trump administration officials during committee hearings. Her proclivity for lighting up social media — and subsequent fundraising ability — may only be rivaled by fellow first-term lawmaker Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.).
She also already has a connection to Harris: Harris, the then-state attorney general, appointed Porter, a protégée of Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), to serve as California’s independent bank monitor in 2012 to oversee implementation of billions in mortgage relief. In addition to her popularity on the left, Porter has also shown an ability to win in an Orange County-area swing district that had been represented by a Republican before her victory in 2018.
California Lt. Governor Eleni Kounalakis
Kounalakis is the state’s first female lieutenant governor and could add to the ranks of women in the Senate if she were appointed by her running mate to fill a vacant Senate seat. Before her current role, Kounalakis served as the U.S. ambassador to Hungary under then-President Obama.
But it’s possible that Kounalakis would prefer to stay in politics on the West Coast, as she has previously expressed interest in running for California governor in 2026 once Newsom can no longer run for reelection.
California Secretary of State Alex Padilla
Padilla has the advantage of already winning election to a statewide office and could be the state’s first Latino senator. Before winning election to his current position in 2014, Padilla served in the state Senate and on the Los Angeles City Council. As California’s secretary of state, Padilla is at the forefront of voting rights issues and implementation of the 2020 census.
Padilla was an early supporter of Newsom and chaired his 2009 gubernatorial campaign while serving in the state Senate. If Newsom is looking to reward a longtime ally, Padilla could be that person.
Some Democrats said there will be pressure on Newsom to appoint a Hispanic to the spot, which would mark a historic first for California, and “serves him well in his future,” according to a Democratic source familiar with the state dynamics.
“I think the governor will pick a Hispanic because they have never had one,” the Democratic source said. “He will want to make a statement.”
“It does seem like Newsom could make history by picking a Latino or a Latina because it’s a heavily Latino, Latina state and that would be a historic pick. Alex Padilla is one name you hear bandied around a lot,” said Duran of The Sacramento Bee.
California Attorney General Xavier Becerra
Becerra has led numerous lawsuits against the Trump administration since becoming California’s attorney general in 2017, ranging on everything from the 2020 census to environmental regulations and the Affordable Care Act.
Before that, Becerra served as House Democratic Caucus chairman and was repeatedly floated by colleagues as a potential successor to Pelosi. He was also reportedly under consideration in 2016 to be Hillary Clinton’s running mate on the Democratic presidential ticket.
Becerra has enjoyed an uptick in national attention lately for spearheading a lawsuit against Uber and Lyft, claiming the ride-sharing services have improperly classified its drivers as independent contractors in violation of gig economy law A.B. 5.
A California-based Democratic consultant, however, said that Becerra did not have a competitive race for attorney general and didn’t impress people as a fundraiser during that campaign.
Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti
Garcetti was named a co-chair of Biden’s campaign earlier this year, which could help position him for a Cabinet post or the vacant Senate seat if Democrats win the White House. Garcetti is known as a prolific fundraiser and has the advantage of being a well-known figure in Los Angeles’s huge media market.
But Garcetti has also had to oversee the city’s handling of the COVID-19 pandemic. Garcetti clashed with the city’s police union in recent days after he authorized shutting off utilities at “party houses” violating public health orders to limit the spread of COVID-19.
California State Controller Betty Yee
Yee, who is Asian American, is serving in her second term as state controller, a statewide elected office, and has been a serious player in California Democratic politics for years.
She was elected to the California State Board of Equalization, which handles tax administration and fee collection, in 2006 and reelected in 2010.
She made headlines Tuesday by calling for an investigation of the former chief investment officer of the California Public Employees’ Retirement System, who abruptly resigned under pressure from the Trump administration to limit U.S. investment in China.
Yee has also received attention for her role on the California Victim Compensation Board during the Black Lives Matter protests against police brutality. She supports a proposal to allow criminal suspects and their survivors to apply for compensation for police-caused deaths or injuries.
California Treasurer Fiona Ma
Ma, who is Asian American, was elected state treasurer in 2018 with more votes than any candidate for treasury in California history. Prior to that she served as chairwoman of the California State Board of Equalization and from 2010 to 2012 as Speaker pro tempore of the California Assembly.
She represented California’s 12th Assembly District, which included the San Francisco Bay area.
Ma recently highlighted her work on affordable housing in an interview with the San Diego Union-Tribune, noting her office has jurisdiction over affordable housing tax credits and recently oversaw the sale of $180 million in bonds for the Cal Vet Home Loan Program.
Mike Lillis contributed.
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