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Gavin Newsom may replace ailing Dianne Feinstein with Oprah Winfrey: Report

By Sarah May on
 May 25, 2023

Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) recently returned to Washington after an extended, illness-related absence, and with debate swirling about whether the 89-year-old lawmaker should retire, reports suggest that Gov. Gavin Newsom is considering a number of potential replacements – including media mogul Oprah Winfrey, according to the Associated Press.

Such a decision would be in keeping with a pledge Newsom made back in 2021, when he said he would choose a Black female for such a vacancy, should it ever occur.

Feinstein's Health in Question

Though Feinstein has already announced that she will not seek reelection in 2024, she has also indicated her intention to serve out the remainder of her current term, though recent health struggles have called the feasibility of that plan into question.

As ABC News noted earlier this month, the senator was diagnosed with shingles back in February, a condition which prevented her return to D.C. for a period of approximately three months.

Not long after her return to official duties in the Senate, it was disclosed that Feinstein had suffered multiple complications during her convalescence, including encephalitis as well as Ramsay Hunt syndrome, which can result in droopy facial muscles, hearing loss, language difficulties, and other issues.

Not only has Feinstein been using a wheelchair to make her way around the Capitol, but she has also appeared to struggle with memory problems and confusion, recently telling reporters that she had not, in fact, been absent from Washington of late, saying, “No, I've been here. I've been voting,” as The Hill reported.

Delicate Situation Persists

Feinstein, for her part, has given no indication that she is contemplating an early departure from her job, something which would not surprise the senator's own biographer, Jerry Roberts, who, as the AP noted, recently explained that she possesses “a belief in herself to the point of stubbornness, where nobody is going to tell her what she can or cannot do.”

“She has tremendous belief and confidence in her own strength and her own ability,” Roberts added.

That is not to say that everyone within her party shares that unwavering faith in her ability to continue on in the role of senator, with Democratic Rep. Ro Khanna (CA-17) among those who have called on Feinstein to step down sooner rather than later, as ABC News further noted.

“It has become painfully obvious to many of us in California that she is no longer able to fulfill her duties,” Khanna opined last month, adding, “[a]s someone from California, I felt an obligation to say what so many colleagues are saying in private.”

Contingency Planning Afoot?

Regardless of Feinstein's tenacity and determination to see her term through to the end, the realities of her age and health status are undoubtedly behind Newsom's reported deliberations about a possible replacement ahead of the next election.

Though many in his state hoped he would select a Black woman to fill the Senate vacancy created when Kamala Harris stepped down to assume her current role as vice president, Newsom chose a Latino male instead, but promised that he would fulfill those wishes in the event of a Feinstein retirement.

“Newsom must honor his promise to appoint a Black woman” under such circumstances, in the estimation of Democratic Assembly member Lori Wilson. “I trust him at his word. We currently have zero black women in the Senate, so if the opportunity becomes available, the governor must act to help remedy this lack of representation,” she added.

Perhaps further complicating Newsom's calculus, however, is the question of whether he would be better off opting for a caretaker individual who would not be running for reelection in the 2024 contest, or, instead, elevating an already-declared candidate, such as Democratic Rep. Barbara Lee (CA-12), who ticks the Black and female boxes that the governor has indicated are top priorities.

Oprah on Deck?

Newsom himself has signaled a reluctance to overtly substitute his own judgment for that of the voters, something which many would argue would happen if he selected anyone other than a caretaker to fill a potential vacancy.

As the AP noted, the governor himself mused, “I get it. For those who say, 'Enough of Newsom making these picks!' I get it. I'm with you. I understand.”

Therefore, it seems all the more plausible that he would be inclined to choose someone such as Winfrey, who has offered influential endorsements to a number of high-profile Democrats in recent years and was even rumored to be considering a White House run herself ahead of the 2020 election, as the New York Post noted.

If Newsom is indeed set on choosing a somewhat unconventional, placeholder-type fill-in for Feinstein if the need should arise, Winfrey may not be his only option, as reports have suggested that another female Californian with substantial name recognition is also harboring political ambitions, namely, Meghan Markle – otherwise known as the Duchess of Sussex. The wisdom of such an appointment would, however, be highly debatable, to say the least.