Interview: California’s newest senator, Laphonza Butler, on Trump, Gaza and its future

Laphonza Butler during her swearing-in ceremony for the U.S. Senate in Washington, DC, on October 1. August 3, 2023. Photo by Stephanie Scarbrough, AP Photo

Interview: California’s newest senator, Laphonza Butler, on Trump, Gaza and its future

California Politics, Israel-Hamas, 2024 Elections

Erin B Logan

January 18, 2024

Senator Laphonza Butler


who Governor Gavin Newsom, who was appointed last year to fill the late Dianne Feinstein’s seat, has now been in Congress for just over 100 days. Ahead of her first formal speech on the Senate floor Wednesday, she spoke to The Times about what she hopes to accomplish before she leaves office early next year.

Butler, who has said she will not run for re-election, discussed the 2024 presidential race, why she has not been called for a ceasefire in the Gaza Strip, California’s declining power in Congress and how her political future could look like after she leaves. the Senate.

This transcript has been condensed and edited for clarity.

You are a junior senator in a 100-member body in a larger branch of government with more than 500 legislators. In Congress it’s very difficult for that


a group of people who want to achieve something. What do you think you can realistically achieve during your term as a single attorney?



I appreciate the reality of the frame you offer and I am not naive to that reality. The goal will always be to pass meaningful legislation and I am realistic about the time frame I have to implement that. But if I can create a model for my colleagues to elevate the conversation to governing, for those charged with national debt,


to advance our democracy, then I think that will make sense. If I can take the conversation to the next level, if I can’t pass legislation, if I can take the conversation to the next level, that will be meaningful to me.

Are you working across the aisle to make this happen? If,

WHO whose

do you cooperate?

I look forward to working with colleagues across the aisle. I have had conversations with many of them


from Senator Katie Britt of Alabama on mental health issues to Senator. [Marsha] Blackburn from Tennessee on the crisis facing foster youth. I think there’s an opportunity to do really meaningful work on the other side of the aisle, and we need to get started on that urgently.

Something your party loved


Voting rights and reproductive rights play a role on the campaign trail. Are you at all interested in taking steps in this direction? If so, what have you done, what can you do and what will you do?

I am, and you know, it’s one of the reasons I asked [Senate Majority Leader Charles E.] Schumer will remain a member of the Judiciary Committee. If we are to truly face the future of our democracy, it must be one that advances the ideals of our democracy: one person,


a voice; protecting a free and independent press, and ensuring that the freedoms and desires we once thought were protected in our Constitution are restored.

It is the crucial element in restoring young people’s confidence that government can

in the

work on their behalf. I chair the subcommittee on the


The creation of the Judiciary Committee, and continuing to highlight these issues and conversations through hearings and other meetings, will be an incredibly important way to keep these issues of democracy and freedom front and center.

Is there anything else you can do as a senator other than pass legislation?

The incredible power of a legislator and especially of the United States Senator is the power of the pulpit and the power to assemble. The opportunities we have to deepen the conversation and elevate the story of needed change are both incredibly powerful tools, I think. And to be able to use this platform and this bully pulpit to have conversations with people who may not have seen themselves included or have been excluded in the past is one of the tools that we’re going to have to deploy in this short period of time. that we will be in the Senate.

Is there anything about Washington that you weren’t aware of before you came here, or is there something you want Californians to know?

I think


The great thing about California is the diversity of our state. We are, you know, the largest community in X, fill in the blank, outside of Y, fill in the blank. This applies to the largest community of Palestinians outside Palestine. The largest community of Armenians outside Armenia. The largest community of Chinese outside China. The largest community of Jewish people outside of Israel. And the beauty of living in and experiencing that beauty and that diversity.

I guess what I would say to Californians is don’t let anyone make that a weakness. We must continue to strengthen


what makes our country and our state special. And that is the way we must choose together to solve our greatest challenges.

California is a true demonstration of the journey between [Proposition] 187 and the passage of legislation in Sacramento to include undocumented immigrants [people] in health care coverage. And so I think it’s a beautiful journey. I think it really honors who we are as Californians [and] is a great example of who we have been and can be as Americans. And for me, that’s the part of the story I wanted to tell the rest of the country.

Do you think the loss of seniority in Congress with the death of Senator Dianne Feinstein and the impeachment of the former Speaker of the House of Representatives Kevin McCarthy will or will translate into any gain or loss for Californians?

California is the fifth largest economy in the world and is a state of 40 million Americans. It’s not a place to take lightly. And when you have an icon like Dianne Feinstein, who you know has worked for over thirty years at an institution that values ​​seniority, then of course

that is

something we have to work through.

Both myself and Senator Alex Padilla are newer in seniority and our congressional colleagues both have a mix of


also in their service. But what drives us are the people of California. What keeps us relevant in our involvement in many different policy areas is the scope and scale of our state. And so we must continue to promote this and thus take the lead as delegation restorer

it is


What do you think of the polls showing President Biden trailing former President Trump if they face off in an election? Is it a sign of what could come? Do you think it’s too early to tell?

Yes, it’s early. Yes. Polls are a snapshot in time and America, the American people are a complete people. They live entire lives and they need us as government and elected officials to really speak up and not only address the challenges they face today but also provide a vision for what we’re going to do to make those things better to make. .

Why didn’t you call for a ceasefire in Gaza? Do you think it makes sense for a senator to call for a ceasefire or not?

Not me

Not me

I want my voice to one day be used to dehumanize any Californian or American. We can both recognize that the atrocities of October 7 were horrific and that Israel has the right to defend itself, while honoring the humanity of the innocent Palestinian lives used as political pawns by a terrorist organization [Hamas]. And so for me, I want to use my time, energy and attention to ensure that we advocate for a permanent solution. And I will not continue to use language that further divides our party, our communities or our country.

Which language is the dehumanizing language?

For some that is the language of ceasefire, and for some it is [it] are other words and phrases that have been used more or less

in this

in this context. For me, I want to focus on what is the solution that we can implement now and in the future, to achieve both goals.



will you support California’s Senate race?

The answer is


of the above. The answer is to do the work of forty million Californians, while I have the responsibility to do it.

Do you plan to run for public office in California or elsewhere once you’re done in the Senate?

I hope to live a long life in public service and I tell my daughter never to say never. And that’s how I answer that question. I never say never, and I have no idea what I’ll do next.


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