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Feinstein’s passing elevates Newsom to the pinnacle of Democratic power

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  • California Governor Gavin Newsom has become the de-facto leader of the Democratic Party due to Senator Dianne Feinstein’s passing and his authority to appoint her replacement
  • Feinstein’s Senate seat will be temporarily filled by Newsom’s appointee until January 2025, with the permanent replacement to be elected in November 2024
  • Newsom previously committed to appointing a Black woman if a vacancy occurred, but he ruled out current candidate Barbara Lee. Speculation surrounds the possibility of him appointing Kamala Harris, who is not running for the seat, as a strategic move

Feinstein's Passing Elevates Newsom to the Pinnacle Of Democratic Power

For months, California Governor Gavin Newsom has been lurking in the shadows to climb the Democratic Party ladder. He was in the GOP debate spin room last Wednesday, tweeting aggressively about the lackluster performances of those on stage.

But, with Sen. Dianne Feinstein’s passing this week, Newsom has been instantly elevated to the de-facto leader of the entire Democratic Party. His power results from how the 17th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution leaves it to the states to decide how to fill a vacancy. California is one of 37 states that authorizes its governor to make a temporary appointment.

Because Feinstein’s death happened more than 148 days before California’s primary, the person that Newsom appoints will only serve until January 2025 when the Senate convenes. By then, California voters will have elected the permanent replacement during the November 2024 election, which coincides with the presidential calendar.

Feinstein, the Senate’s oldest member at 90 years of age, had already announced in February that she would not run for reelection when her term expired in November 2024. Three Democratic U.S. representatives, ultra-liberal Katie Porter of Irvine, Adam Schiff of Los Angeles (renowned for cleverly engineering former President Trump’s first impeachment and being on the J6 committee), and Barbara Lee of Oakland, are battling in the primary.

California conducts its elections using the Top Two Open Primary system, in which both Democratic and Republican candidates are listed on a single statewide primary election ballot. The top two candidates will advance to the general election. Given the liberal bent of the state, it is possible that both candidates for the general election could be Democrats, so the Democratic Party is virtually assured that Feinstein’s seat will not change party hands. Today, the Senate has a 51-49 Democratic majority. If required, Vice President Kamala Harris (a former California senator) casts tie-breaking votes.

Newsom’s past statements about whom he would appoint as a replacement can shake national politics as the presidential election race heats up. According to the New York Times, Newsom said more than two years ago that he would name a Black woman to the post should a vacancy arise.

Barbara Lee, a current candidate, is Black. But on NBC’s “Meet the Press” a few weeks ago, Newsom ruled out appointing those currently running for the seat, eliminating Lee from contention.

Exit Ramp For Kamala Harris?

Kamala Harris is Black and is currently not running for the seat. So, could Newsom appoint Harris to the Senate seat and have Biden choose him as Vice President? Of course, it will come with a promise to appoint Kamala when a Supreme Court vacancy arises.

A Sen. Harris will also have to throw her hat in the ring and win the general election, a relatively easy task given that she already held that office. Newsom never forbade someone he chose from running so he could claim that he stuck to his word.

Three outcomes are possible.

  • If a Biden-Newsom ticket wins in 2024, Newsom would be heir apparent in 2028. It would be clear that Newsom powered the failing Biden’s campaign to victory.
  • If Biden resigns because of his horrible polling numbers, Newsom could run in 2024 as an incumbent, having ascended to the presidency. Newsom could pick another identity hire, like Pete Buttigieg, as his running mate to play to the LGBTQ constituency.
  • If a Biden-Newsom ticket loses in 2024, Newsom would be the front-runner of the Democrats in 2028.

Given how disastrous Kamala Harris’s career has been since she first came to Washington, the above is not out of the realm of political possibilities.

Kamala Harris Background

Many Americans may not know that Vice President Kamala Harris was raised by her South Indian Brahmin mother, who married and divorced a Black man when the young Kamala turned six. Kamala’s father, Donald Harris, 85, is Jamaican-American and an emeritus economics professor at Stanford. He met Kamala’s mother when they were both graduate students at UC Berkeley. Mr. Harris received a PhD in economics in 1966.

After living with her mother in Canada and attending Howard University in Washington, Kamala Harris returned to the Bay Area in the late 1990s. Kamala’s most clever decision in her career was to continue to identify as Black. Although she lived in the same city as her father, Mr. Harris has said that he has never met his daughter even once. As an independent-thinking woman, Kamala could have changed her last name to Gopalan (her mother’s last name) and identified as Indian-American – but that would have been politically inconvenient.

As a protégé of Mayor Willie Brown in San Francisco, Harris became the lead district attorney (DA) of Alameda County. Soon, Brown hired her to the San Francisco DA’s Office and later the City Attorney of San Francisco’s office. In 2003, she was elected DA of San Francisco. She was elected statewide as California’s Attorney General in 2010 and re-elected in 2014, paving the way for her to win the United States Senate election in 2016.

In the 2020 Democratic Primaries, Harris tried to replicate another Black senator’s success in running for the presidency soon after being elected: Barack Obama. But Harris bombed, dropping out before the Iowa caucuses. It was, again, a clever move because she had not yet antagonized anyone. When candidate Biden was failing in the Democratic Primaries, South Carolina Congressman James Clyburn played kingmaker. In return for a promise to appoint a Black person as Vice President, Clyburn threw his support behind Biden and endorsed him. Biden won South Carolina, and with the other contenders, including liberal senators Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders, dropping out, Biden coasted to victory and dutifully appointed Kamala Harris to his ticket.

Kamala Harris Today

Since becoming second-in-command of the executive branch, Harris has been a political disaster, polling so low that former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, hailing from the same district as Harris and still wielding substantial power among Democrats, failed to endorse Harris for a second term. In an interview with CNN, Pelosi refused to say whether Vice President Kamala Harris was “the best running mate” for President Joe Biden’s 2024 campaign.

Newsom now has the power to address the Democrats’ anxiety about the Biden-Harris ticket in 2024. At present, Newsom is, without doubt, the most powerful Democrat in the country.

Rajkamal Rao is a columnist and a member of the tippinsights editorial board. He is an American entrepreneur and wrote the WorldView column for the Hindu BusinessLine, India’s second-largest financial newspaper, on the economy, politics, immigration, foreign affairs, and sports.

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TIPP Takes

Geopolitics And Geoeconomics

1. Putin Says Russian-Held Regions In Ukraine Endorse Their Choice To Join Moscow – Reuters

In a video address on the first anniversary of Russia’s controversial announcement to annex four parts of Ukraine, the Russian leader said the choice to join Russia was reinforced by this month’s local elections that returned officials supporting Russia’s annexation.

Feinstein's Passing Elevates Newsom to the Pinnacle Of Democratic Power

On Sept. 30, 2022, parts of four Ukrainian regions – Donetsk, Luhansk, Kherson, and Zaporizhzhia – were formally incorporated into Russia after referendums that Moscow said returned overwhelming majorities in favor.

Western countries dismissed the outcomes as meaningless and illegal annexation, underpinned by mass coercion of voters.


2. Russia Drafts 130,000 Conscripts, Increases Age Limit to 30 – VOA News

Starting at the age of 18, all men in Russia are required to serve one year in the military.

Feinstein's Passing Elevates Newsom to the Pinnacle Of Democratic Power

The conscription will begin on October 1 in all parts of the Russian Federation, according to the defense ministry, including in the illegally annexed regions of Ukraine.

Putin said earlier this month that he is bracing for a long war with Ukraine as Russia’s armed forces press on with their “special military operation” in Ukraine, now in its 20th month.

Related opinion:

The US Military Is Laying The Groundwork To Reinstitute The Draft


3. China Wants To Be ‘Dominant Power’ In World, Says Blinken – WION

“I think that what it seeks is to be the dominant power in the world – militarily, economically, diplomatically,” said Blinken when asked at a forum about China’s intentions. 

Feinstein's Passing Elevates Newsom to the Pinnacle Of Democratic Power

He has spoken more indirectly in the past, saying China was seeking to “reshape the international order.”


4. Foreign Investors’ Net Selling Of China Shares Hits 9-Year High – Nikkei Asia

Foreign investors continue to dump Chinese stocks of companies in mainland China. The July-September period hit the largest quarterly net selling since the mutual market access program started in 2014.

Feinstein's Passing Elevates Newsom to the Pinnacle Of Democratic Power
Concern about the macroeconomic outlook and real estate problems in China has been prodding overseas investors to unload Chinese shares. © Reuters

Concern about the macroeconomic outlook and the real estate problems in China has been prodding overseas investors to unload Chinese shares, especially those of financial institutions and personal consumption-related companies.


5. China Bars Executive At Firm Kroll From Leaving The Mainland: Report – WION

A senior executive at a U.S.-based financial and risk advisory firm, Kroll, has been barred from leaving China, The Wall Street Journal reported.

Feinstein's Passing Elevates Newsom to the Pinnacle Of Democratic Power

It is the latest example of employees of foreign firms being barred from leaving China by Chinese authorities. As per the WSJ report, Michael Chan is a Hong Kong passport holder who can travel freely in mainland China and is still working.


6. U.S. Corn Prices Slump As Top Buyer China Turns To Brazil – Nikkei Asia

U.S. corn prices have slipped to their lowest levels in almost three years as China ramps up imports from Brazil, cutting into demand for American exports ahead of an expected bumper crop.

Feinstein's Passing Elevates Newsom to the Pinnacle Of Democratic Power

Benchmark Chicago corn futures sank below $5 a bushel in late August and have remained down since. On Sept. 19, they dipped under $4.70 to the lowest since December 2020.


7. Appointment of Ambassador Signals China’s Ambition in Afghanistan, Experts Say – VOA

By sending an ambassador to Afghanistan, China aims to “maintain and expand its influence” in the region, said Claire Chao, an analyst at The Asia Group.

Feinstein's Passing Elevates Newsom to the Pinnacle Of Democratic Power
China’s new ambassador to Afghanistan, Zhao Xing, left, meets with Taliban Prime Minister Mohammad Hassan Akhund in Kabul, Sept. 13, 2023. (Courtesy Taliban Information Ministry)

“China sees its long-term security and economic goals in Afghanistan hinge on security and stability in Afghanistan.”

China’s ambassador is the first of any country to be appointed in this role since the Taliban takeover in 2021, even though it has not yet recognized the group’s de facto government.


8. China Debuts Its First Overwater High-Speed Train – CNN

The latest addition to China’s portfolio is its first over-water bullet train – a 172-mile high-speed train line along the southeastern coast, connecting the cities in the Fujian province.

Feinstein's Passing Elevates Newsom to the Pinnacle Of Democratic Power

Fujian province is significant for being the closest part of mainland China to the self-governing island of Taiwan. The new line is just one of many infrastructure projects touted by the Chinese government in 2016 when the “Eight Horizontal and Eight Vertical” rail initiative was announced.


9. Eurozone Inflation Falls To 4.3% On Falling Energy Prices, Slowing Food Price Rises – UPI

Inflation slowed across the bulk of the euro area’s economies, led by Germany, Latvia, and Lithuania, which saw falls in excess of 2% but gathered pace in Austria, Cyprus, Ireland, Slovenia, and Spain.

Feinstein's Passing Elevates Newsom to the Pinnacle Of Democratic Power

The latest fall in inflation, weeks after the European Central Bank hiked its main refinancing rate to 4.5%, paves the way for the central bank to pause monetary policy tightening after ten consecutive increases since it began hiking interest rates in July 2022.


10. White House Official Says ‘Basic Framework’ In Place For Saudi-Israel Deal – Al Arabiya

“All sides have hammered out, I think, a basic framework for what we might be able to drive at,” National Security Council Spokesman John Kirby told reporters.

Feinstein's Passing Elevates Newsom to the Pinnacle Of Democratic Power

The Biden administration has been mediating between the two countries for months, hoping to broker what could arguably be one of the most historic agreements in recent history.

Saudi Arabia has stipulated that Israel would have to make certain concessions to the Palestinians in return for normalizing ties.


11. Murder Claim In Canada Is Helping India Leader Modi At Home: Report – Bloomberg

India has gone on the offensive since Canadian PM Justin Trudeau accused Modi’s government for the murder of Hardeep Singh Nijjar, a priest who advocated for an independent Sikh homeland in India.

Feinstein's Passing Elevates Newsom to the Pinnacle Of Democratic Power

India had branded him a terrorist in 2020.

Within India, that stance has made Modi a clear winner. Influential nationalist television hosts are attacking Canada and whipping up patriotism on nightly news programs.

Related tippinsights Editorial

Trudeau Could Have Avoided The Canada-India Diplomatic Impasse


12. U.S. Urges Serbia To Withdraw Troops From Kosovo Border As Tensions Rise – BBC

The U.S. is urging Serbia to withdraw what it says is a large military build-up on the country’s border with Kosovo. 

It follows an attack last Sunday during which some 30 gunmen were involved in a gun battle with Kosovo police in the Serb-majority northern Kosovo.

In the past months, tensions have risen between Kosovo’s minority ethnic Serb and majority Albanian communities. In response to the “current situation,” the UK sent troops to join NATO peacekeepers there.


13. Pentagon’s CWMD Strategy Document Calls N. Korea ‘Persistent Threat’ – Yonhap

The Pentagon published the first Strategy for Countering Weapons of Mass Destruction (CWMD) in 2014, describing China as the pacing challenge, Russia as an acute threat, and the North and Iran as persistent threats.

Feinstein's Passing Elevates Newsom to the Pinnacle Of Democratic Power

The key security document warned that its military capability advancements would give the recalcitrant regime options to use nuclear arms “at any stage of conflict.”


14. Fukushima To Release Wastewater Anew – AFP

Japan will begin releasing a second batch of wastewater from the crippled Fukushima nuclear plant from next week. China and others were angry when it began in August.

Feinstein's Passing Elevates Newsom to the Pinnacle Of Democratic Power

China banned all Japanese seafood imports after the first release, which ended on September 11, despite Tokyo’s insistence that the operation poses no risk.


15. Burkina Faso: Elections Not A ‘Priority,’ Junta Leader Says – D.W.

Burkina Faso junta leader Ibrahim Traore, who came to power in a 2022 coup, said the country’s priority was “security.” The military leadership had previously promised presidential elections by July 2024.

Feinstein's Passing Elevates Newsom to the Pinnacle Of Democratic Power
Burkina Faso leader Ibrahim Traore

The military leader said he planned a “partial change” to Burkina Faso’s constitution. He said the current constitution reflects “the opinion of a handful of enlightened people” and not that of the “popular masses.”


Republished with permission from TIPP Insights

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