What Happens to Kamala Harris' Senate Seat Now?

It all comes down to California governor Gavin Newsom.

Kamala Harris
(Image credit: Bill Clark)

Now that Joe Biden and Kamala Harris have won the 2020 election, Harris' Senate seat is left open. California governor Gavin Newsom will make the selection, and the person will serve until the end of Harris' term in 2022. Very shortly after Harris' initial VP announcement, speculation began about who might take on the role in the event that the seat becomes vacant—California is a diverse, influential state with progressive policies on issues like climate change and immigration. On top of that, Harris is only the second Black woman ever elected to the Senate. Thus, the selection will need to be nuanced, and there are many candidates to choose from in the state. What do we know so far?

California Governor Gavin Newsom selected Alex Padilla to fill Harris' Senate seat.

On December 22, the New York Times reported that Newsom had selected Padilla to serve the final two years Harris' Senate term. While many were disappointed that the seat wasn't filled by a Black woman, the pick still brings diversity to the Senate as Padilla will be the first Latino senator to represent the state of California.

Several people pitched themselves as Harris' Senate replacement.

Newsom, in a press conference, talked about the "historic" moment of Harris' nomination. He added that selecting a successor at that moment was "not what I’m focused on right now," referencing California's spiking COVID-19 cases mid-pandemic and the wildfires.

But when a reporter asked if anyone had come to Newsom hoping to be selected, he replied with a small laugh, "You may be the only one who hasn’t, unless you just did—and that is only a slight exaggeration."

So several candidates have already very likely pitched themselves, we can infer from that. According to the New York Times, there were already 24 names being discussed around the state capital even before Harris' announcement as VP.

Newsom's discussion of Harris starts at the 58-minute mark:

See more

On Election Day, Newsom was asked again about choosing someone to replace Harris. He responded, "I mean, honestly, I'm not even exaggerating. There's a hundred chores that I'd prefer. I'm not kidding." Newsom continued, "This is not something that I wish even on my worst enemy, because you create enemies in this process you know, not just friends. And it's a vexing decision. It's a challenging one."

People have strong opinions on the pick.

Aimee Allison, founder and president of She the People, told The Guardian, "It seems early...But behind the scenes, conversations are already happening. And I don’t think it’s too soon to think about what the community wants, and what the state wants in a leader."

Allison also said that she hoped Harris wouldn't be replaced by a man. "It’s just a bad look...And after the protests inspired by George Floyd’s murder—to me it makes sense to have someone of color."

"[W]omen are not going to want to lose one of the few women in the Senate,” Democratic strategist Rose Kapolczynski told the New York Times.

A few names that have been discussed already:

  • Attorney General Xavier Becerra: He replaced Harris as the California's top law enforcement official when Harris was elected to the U.S. Senate.
  • Secretary of State Alex Padilla: He's a friend of Newsom when and would become the first Latino senator in the state's history.
  • U.S. Representatives Karen Bass of Los Angeles: She was considered to be Biden's running mate and is the head of the Congressional Black Caucus.
  • U.S. Representatives Barbara Lee of Oakland: She has represented her city in Congress since 1998 and was considered to be Biden's running mate.
  • U.S. Representative Katie Porter of Irvine: She faced off with the CDC director over coronavirus testing back in March and the clip went viral.
  • State Senate Pro Tem Toni Atkins of San Diego: She has the potential to be the state's first openly gate senator.
  • U.S. Representative of Silicon Valley Ro Khanna: The Indian-American politician co-chaired Sanders' national campaign for president this year.
  • Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti: He's Jewish and Mexican American and co-chaired Biden's vice-presidential search committee.
  • San Francisco Mayor London Breed: She's close friends with Harris and has refferred to her as a "Bay Area sister."
  • Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf: She's served her city since 2015.
  • Long Beach Mayor Robert Garcia: He's the city's first openly gay mayor and Latino.

“The biggest problem that the governor will have is the embarrassment of riches,” Harris' former chief of staff Nathan Barankin said to The Guardian. “To choose between all these qualified candidates is going to be very difficult.”

Katherine J. Igoe

Katherine’s a Boston-based contributor at Marie Claire who covers fashion, culture, and lifestyle—from “Clueless” to Everlane to news about Lizzo. She’s been a freelancer for 11 years and has had roles with Cosmopolitan and Bustle, with bylines in Parents, Seventeen, and elsewhere. It’s “I go to dinner,” not “Her huge ego,” but she responds to both.