Who Will Replace Kamala Harris in the U.S. Senate?

Even before Kamala Harris was elected as the next vice president of the United States, her ascent to the White House prompted an important question: Who would take over her spot in the U.S. Senate, if she were to leave? Harris made history when she was elected to represent California in the Senate in 2016; she’s the second Black woman to ever serve in the legislative body, and, at the moment, the only Black woman to hold a seat.

Now that Harris will soon be sworn in as VP, it falls to California Gov. Gavin Newsom to decide who will replace her for the rest of her term. And while California is a solidly Democratic state—meaning the party doesn’t have to worry about the seat potentially flipping in future elections—it’s still an essential decision, as the person could hold the seat for the rest of their career. As Politico reports, Newsom must determine whether he wants to choose someone who could more easily win statewide after Harris’s current term is up in 2022 or if he wants a “placeholder” that would give way to a more “even playing field” in the next election. (Newsom is also up for re-election in 2022.)

It’s unclear as of now exactly when Newsom will announce the replacement. “No timeline has been established,” Newsom said at a November press conference. “The process is just beginning to unfold. We are working through the cattle call of considerations related to what’s the profile, the right choice to replace Senator Harris.”

But who exactly is being considered? A number of names have been reported across news outlets, and according to NPR, Newsom’s adviser Nathan Ballard said, “Diversity is a given. It’s not going to be someone who looks like Gavin,” a.k.a. a straight white man. Some are urging Newsom to choose another woman of color, and specifically a Black woman. (Only 26 percent of senators are currently women, and only three besides Harris are women of color.) Others are encouraging him to pick someone to become the state’s first ever Latino or Latina senator, as 39 percent of the state’s residents are Latino.

Here, a look at who the next senator could be:

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Congresswoman Karen Bass in Los Angeles, California, in May 2019.

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There are a handful of congresswomen reportedly being considered, including Rep. Karen Bass, Rep. Barbara Lee, and Rep. Katie Porter. Bass, a former community organizer and the current chair of the Congressional Black Caucus, was also considered as a potential vice presidential pick for Joe Biden. Lee, a former member of the California State Senate, is a longtime friend of Harris’s, according to NPR, and helped “bridge the divide between the left-leaning and moderate parts of the party in 2016.” If appointed, Bass or Lee would follow in Harris’s footsteps as the only Black woman in the Senate. Porter was first elected to Congress in 2018, when she flipped a red district blue, and has become known for her incisive questioning and famous whiteboard. However, moving her to the Senate could make her district vulnerable to flipping back to the GOP.

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California Secretary of State Alex Padilla during a news conference in San Francisco, California, in May 2018.

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Two notable Latino politicians being considered are California Attorney General Xavier Becerra, a former congressman who took over the position of attorney general after Harris left the job to go to the Senate, and California Secretary of State Alex Padilla, a friend of Newsom’s who also served as a state senator and was the youngest member and first Latino elected president of the Los Angeles City Council. (If Newsom appointed either, he would also get to appoint their replacement.) There’s also Long Beach Mayor Robert Garcia, who spoke at the virtual Democratic National Convention this summer as a “rising star,” according to the Washington Post. If given the seat, Garcia would make history twice over as he is also openly gay.

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Congressman Ro Khanna at a press conference in Washington, DC, in April 2019.

SAUL LOEBGetty Images

Some progressive groups are pushing Newsom to choose Rep. Ro Khanna, who previously worked in President Obama’s administration and was recently a national co-chair of Bernie Sanders’s presidential campaign. Like Harris, Khanna is also Indian American.

san francisco mayor london breed

San Francisco Mayor London Breed at the Women’s March in San Francisco in January 2019.

Kelly SullivanGetty Images

Other potential female candidates include Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf, who previously served on the Oakland City Council, and San Francisco Mayor London Breed, who’s won praise this year for how she’s led her city through the pandemic. There’s also Holly Mitchell, who was recently elected to the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors and is currently the only Black woman in the California state Senate, as well as Toni Atkins, who became the state’s first female and LGBTQ Senate President pro tempore in 2018.

    Make your bets now as to who it could be. We’ll update this post once Newsom officially announces.

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