Laphonza Butler was sworn in Tuesday to fill the California Senate seat of the late Senator Dianne Feinstein, who died last week at age 90. This makes Butler the only Black woman currently in the Senate and the first out Black lesbian in Congress — but the appointment also frustrated many progressives who had been pushing for Congressmember Barbara Lee to get the nod. Congressmember Ro Khanna, co-chair of Lee’s Senate campaign, says it was “unfortunate” that California Governor Gavin Newsom didn’t name her. Although Butler would be a “formidable candidate” if she runs for the seat in 2024, Khanna predicts that Lee can still win. “She has a record that speaks volumes for the type of country we need to be,” says Khanna.
AMY GOODMAN: I also want to ask you about the California Senate race. On Tuesday, Laphonza Butler was sworn in to temporarily fill the seat of the late Dianne Feinstein, who will be buried Thursday. Butler was appointed to the Senate by California Governor Gavin Newsom, sworn in by Vice President Kamala Harris.
VICE PRESIDENT KAMALA HARRIS: Do you solemnly swear that you will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that you will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that you take this obligation freely, without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion; and that you will well and faithfully discharge the duties of the office upon which you are about to enter, so help you God?
LAPHONZA BUTLER: I will.
VICE PRESIDENT KAMALA HARRIS: Congratulations.
AMY GOODMAN: Laphonza Butler becomes the first openly lesbian Black senator, just the third Black woman to serve in the Senate in U.S. history, former labor leader at Service Employees International Union, head of home healthcare workers in California. Up until this week, she was the president of EMILY’s List, which helped select pro-abortion Democratic women to public office. Despite her union background, Butler more recently advised Uber as it fought the California law requiring app companies to grant workers employee benefits.
And, of course, as you are, Congressman Khanna, the campaign co-chair of Barbara Lee’s race for the Senate — she openly campaigned to be able to be temporarily in that seat, even as she ran for the Senate, and people felt there was a kind of ”ABB” campaign, perhaps led by Nancy Pelosi — “Anyone but Barbara” — to replace Dianne Feinstein. Your thoughts?
REP. RO KHANNA: Well, I was disappointed with the governor’s decision. It should have been Barbara Lee. I am enthusiastically supporting her. The Congressional Black Caucus is still behind her, and they wanted her. She was the person who was out there for one year campaigning. The governor said that, initially, he didn’t want to appoint someone like her because she was running. Now he has said it’s OK to run, but he still didn’t pick her. And I know she feels that this was not fair to her. Of course, I have tremendous respect for Senator Butler, for her life story, for what her appointment means to the LGBTQ community and to African American women. But it is really unfortunate, what happened with Barbara Lee. And I think this just will fuel her to run a more spirited campaign. And I’ve seen so much support for her among the grassroots across the state of California.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And if Senator Butler decides not to be just a caretaker but actually throw her hat in the ring for the race, how do you think that will affect the race next year?
REP. RO KHANNA: Well, Senator Butler would be a formidable candidate. I mean, I know she has supported and helped so many women get elected. She obviously will be able to raise resources. She’s a sitting United States senator, and she’s a very talented person.
But Barbara Lee, in my view, will still prevail. And the reason is that she has the support of progressives and her colleagues in the Congressional Black Caucus and elected officials across the state of California because of her record. She has spent decades advocating against war, advocating against a blank check for George Bush in Afghanistan when every other member gave Bush that blank check, arguing against the War in Iraq, arguing for Medicare for All and is an original co-sponsor. She has a record that speaks volumes for the type of country we need to be. And so, my enthusiastic support is with her. And I know many people are genuinely empathetic to what happened to her. They feel that she was not treated fairly.
AMY GOODMAN: On another note, but sticking with the Senate, though you are a congressmember, this latest news that Maryland Senator Ben Cardin, who is the new chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, to replace Bob Menendez, who was just indicted for corruption, for bribery, with some New Jersey businessmen and to support the Egyptian government — Senator Cardin has announced he’s blocking all $235 million in U.S. military aid to Egypt, citing human rights concerns. Are you calling for Menendez, overall, to resign, not just step down, which he has, from the Senate Foreign Relations Committee? And your response to Cardin’s move right now?
REP. RO KHANNA: I have called for Senator Menendez to resign, as has Senator Cory Booker and so many of my colleagues in New Jersey. I believe that would be the right thing to do, given the extraordinary responsibilities of being a senator and given the serious allegations against him.
I also have been a strong advocate for human rights in Egypt and have said that we at least need to make our aid conditional on the release of political prisoners. And this is something that I want to study in terms of the consequences of stopping the aid. But in terms of a line saying that we have to pay more attention to the human rights situation in Egypt and can’t just have unconditional resources, I applaud Senator Cardin for that. And we’ll be working with colleagues to figure out the best path to make sure that human rights in Egypt are uplifted.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And, Congressman, I wanted to ask you about another crisis that’s been much in the news domestically here, the issue of the surge of migrants that are being sent from the border to the northern cities, to California, to Denver, to New York, to Chicago. Governor Pritzker of Illinois sent a very critical letter this week to President Biden, saying the federal government hasn’t done enough to help the cities deal with the humanitarian assistance needed for these migrants. I’m wondering your thoughts of what the Biden administration has been doing and what it could do?
REP. RO KHANNA: Well, it’s a very sad situation. First of all, we have to understand the conditions of these migrants who are coming. I have heard from colleagues stories about young boys talking about their mothers being raped on the journey over to the United States. These are often asylum seekers fleeing persecution. And America has always welcomed people who have fled persecution from other countries. It’s also important to recognize that the number of undocumented in America has stayed relatively the same, because a lot of people are also leaving back to Mexico and other countries who were undocumented. It’s stayed at around 11 [million] to 12 million.
But we know the solution in terms of comprehensive immigration reform. We know we need more immigration judges at the border to make determinations about who has legitimate asylum claims. We know we need these asylum seekers, once they’re in the United States, to be able to work. I mean, it makes no sense to have them spending time in the United States waiting for their formal hearings, not being able to work. And we know that there is a — there are comprehensive border security provisions that keep the border secure and orderly, while recognizing people’s human rights and right to asylum. The Democrats have been proposing this for years. That is the solution that we need. And my hope is that the humanitarian crisis that the border represents motivates Americans to get serious about a solution.
AMY GOODMAN: Congressmember Ro Khanna, we want to thank you for being with us, Democratic of California, Silicon Valley, deputy whip of the Congressional Progressive Caucus.
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