I expect a very interesting game of Democratic musical chairs to play out over the next few weeks. The main “ballroom” will be in California, not DC and the “guest DJ” in will be Mitch McConnell. Let’s explore.
With Kamala Harris being elected the Vice President she will have to vacate her Senate seat. Since her term expires in 2023 and the seat is up for reelection in 2022 the remainder of her term will be filled by whoever California Governor Gavin Newsom appoints. California is an extremely populous state and a very blue one. There is no shortage of Democrats who can make a case that they deserve the appointment and could win reelection on 2022. Off the top of my head and in no particular order I quickly came up with six names: Newsom himself, California Attorney General Xavier Becerra, Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, and U.S. House members Eric Swalwell, Karen Bass and Adam Schiff.
All six of those are key Democrats and have to be respected by the Biden administration. I have no inside information but I’ll offer a few guesses. Schiff is the Chairman of the powerful House Intelligence Committee. Bass is extremely influential in the Congressional Black Caucus which will certainly be heard in a Biden-Harris administration. They may both be happy to stay in place. We know Swalwell is looking for bigger things as evidenced by his 2020 run for the Democratic presidential nomination.
Newsom (who legally can name himself to the seat) and Garcetti are the toughest to guess the ambitions of. They may be happy to stick closer to home. Becerra was a member of the House who came back home to run for and win the State AG spot. Does he want to go back to DC? Here is a wild card; if Newsom names himself could a side deal be cut to grease the skids for someone else with respect to the governorship?
None of these six, if they do want to move, will want an obscure slot. The obvious goal is a Cabinet position. The reality is that all six are extremely qualified to serve in one or more Cabinet spots.
Enter “Guest DJ” Mitch McConnell. The first reaction of most readers is: What does a Republican have to do with the decision making (and possibly deal making) process of setting up a Democratic Cabinet? The answer is simply that it appears the Republicans will maintain control of the Senate at least through January 5, 2021 and are favored to control it even after the Georgia runoffs. Cabinet nominees are subject to Senate confirmation. If Mitch can hold his caucus together – and he is extremely good at that – he can block any nominee he desires to. I have every reason to believe that if he remains Senate Majority Leader. McConnell will be an obstructionist. The unanswered question is just to what degree. Would he actually stop Joe Biden from having the qualified Cabinet members he wanted? Could we get into a standoff that resulted in unfilled top spots?
I have long – and I believe correctly – viewed the Trump administration as an organized criminal enterprise. Unlike Trump, McConnell doesn’t concentrate on personal financial gain so much as he follows the Lyndon Johnson model of acquiring and maintaining political power by controlling campaign purse strings. With Trump’s exit we no longer have Don McConnell and Don Trump in a turf sharing agreement. Will that modify McConnell’s behavior?
In the best of circumstances this will not be an easy transition. As of this writing Trump appointed GSA Administrator Emily Murphy has refused to release the access to resources and funds budgeted for the transition. (We are talking in the neighborhood of $100 million.) We know the Trump admiration will neither cooperate with the incoming administration nor takes transitions seriously.
One of the many reasons the Trump administration was such a disaster is that they refused to cooperate with the outgoing Obama administration in the transition process. Michael Lewis’ The Fifth Risk is a great book largely devoted to that “transition”.
In addition to a pandemic and an economy on the brink, getting a government staffed while giving qualified Democrats the respect they deserve if not the job they desire are among the challenges facing Joe Biden and Kamala Harris. It is not just their problem; like it or not we are all in this together regardless of who we voted for.
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