What Happens to Kamala Harris' Senate Seat if She Becomes Vice President?

It all comes down to California governor Gavin Newsom.

Earlier this month, Joe Biden selected California Senator Kamala Harris as his vice presidential running mate. If Biden and Harris win in 2020, Harris' Senate seat will be 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' 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?

Several people have 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 "is not what I’m focused on right now," referencing California's spiking COVID-19 cases mid-pandemic (and, now, the wildfires currently raging).

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:

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People have strong opinions and 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, Secretary of State Alex Padilla, U.S. Representatives Karen Bass of Los Angeles and Barbara Lee of Oakland, U.S. Representative Katie Porter of Irvine, State Senate President Toni Atkins, U.S. Representative Ro Khanna, and Mayors Eric Garcetti, London Breed, Libby Schaaf and Robert Garcia. (Both Bass and Lee were apparently considered as Biden's running mates as well as Harris.)

“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.”

The decision might be nuanced.

Per the New York Times:

In interviews, a few political consultants and elected officials suggested Mr. Newsom might want to appoint a caretaker—his predecessor as governor, Jerry Brown, for instance, or even Mr. Newsom himself, given his widely assumed national aspirations. Or he might prefer a statewide office holder, whose move also would let Mr. Newsom appoint a replacement for the rest of that person’s term in office.

There's also a lot that could happen between now and the end of the year, so there's time for Newsom and his team to discuss potential options and even have discussions with potential candidates. We'll keep the post updated as we learn more.

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