After Vice President-elect Kamala Harris resigns her seat on Monday, there will be no Black women serving in the Senate.
Though it’s customary for outgoing senators to give a farewell speech from the Senate floor—often to call for changes to congressional processes, or to urge their colleagues to embrace bipartisanship—Harris will be making no such speech because of scheduling conflicts. The Senate isn’t due to reconvene until Tuesday, and on Wednesday Harris will be sworn in as vice president by Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor, becoming the first Black women to hold the office.
Harris reportedly began the process of leaving her Senate post before this week, notifying California Gavin Newsom of her intent to do so—duh!—and initiating the official protocols. Last month, Newsom appointed California Secretary of State Alex Padilla to fill Harris’s seat, the first Latino senator to represent the state. Newsom’s choice, while historic in its own way, came after lawmakers and advocates called on him to choose another Black women to take Harris’s place. Some had pushed for the governor to choose Congresswoman Karen Bass, or Barbara Lee for the job.
“We [are] incredibly hurt and disappointed in the governor’s decision,” Taisha Brown, the chair of the California Democratic Party Black Caucus, said in an interview with the Sacramento Bee. “Through a stroke of a pen, his actions have denied a Black female representation in the United States Senate.”
Brown pointed to Newsom’s appointment as just one more example of the ways in which Black women are valued in the Democratic Party only as voters, not as leaders. “Too often, Black women are overlooked, but so often, they are the backbone of the Democratic Party,” she said. “We do all the sweat, equity and work for candidates, and we’re never rewarded.”
Harris was just the second Black women to ever serve in the Senate, the first being Carol Moseley Braun, the Democrat from Illinois, who served from 1993 to 1999. Harris began her term 17 years later.
Representation can only go so far. As California’s attorney general, Harris criminalized the parents of children who were absent from school, refused to investigate instances of police brutality, and denied incarcerated trans people gender confirmation surgery. In the Senate, she backed SESTA/FOSTA, a supposed anti-trafficking bill that hurt sex workers; as a presidential candidate she flip-flopped on some of the progressive issues she stood for as senator, like Medicare for All. It’s possible that the next Black woman to hold a Senate seat could be a Republican, whose politics would do little to help the communities they represent.
Still, it’s unthinkable that there should be no Black women in the Senate, and we shouldn’t have to wait another 17 years for another.