California Governor Gavin Newsom has pledged to appoint a Black woman to represent California in the U.S. Senate if Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein retires before the end of her term. However, the governor has mentioned the appointment would only be a temporary replacement. This pledge has offended California U.S. Rep. Barbara Lee, who said the plan represents a “token replacement.”

Gov. Newsom plans to appoint a “caretaker” Black woman to the Senate.

Gov. Newsom first promised to appoint a Black woman to the Senate if Feinstein retired early in 2021; the governor’s pledge came after he failed to nominate a Black woman to replace Kamala Harris when she left the Senate to become vice president. In recent weeks, the governor has again reiterated his pledge as members of both parties are calling for the early retirement of Sen. Feinstein, who has been in poor health in recent years and has experienced several moments of apparent confusion while conducting her Senate duties.

When asked about the situation recently on NBC’s Meet the Press, Newsom reiterated his pledge to appoint a Black woman. He also stated he didn’t want to determine the result of the upcoming 2024 election for the position. He, therefore, pledged only to appoint an “interim” senator who would not be running for the seat next year. Newsom agreed with host Chuck Todd that the potential appointee would only be a “caretaker” senator intended to fill the role temporarily.

“Black women deserve more than a participation trophy.”

This plan has angered Barbara Lee, who has represented California in the House of Representatives for 25 years and is now running for Feinstein’s seat in 2024. On Sunday, Lee released a statement saying she was “troubled” by the governor’s plan. 

“The idea that a Black woman should be appointed only as a caretaker to simply check a box is insulting to countless Black women across this country who have carried the Democratic Party to victory election after election.” 

Lee also argued, “The perspective of Black women in the U.S. Senate is sorely needed — and needed for more than a few months.” 

Lee’s statement called Newsom’s planned appointment “a token appointment.” She scolded the governor, saying, “Black women deserve more than a participation trophy. We need a seat at the table.”

The dispute between Newsom and Lee is the latest instance of the two California Democrats growing more distant in recent years. Rep. Lee was one of the women Newsom passed over when replacing Harris. Lee was previously considered the leading candidate to succeed Feinstein, a possibility ruled out by Newsom’s “caretaker” pledge.

With Newsom standing by his stance on the coveted Senate seat and Lee running for the position in 2024, these two public figures will likely continue to butt heads. Their disagreement highlights Black women’s essential but underappreciated role in the Democratic Party in recent years and will continue to play as more of them take on increasingly prominent positions.