President-elect Donald TrumpDonald TrumpMcAuliffe takes tougher stance on Democrats in Washington Democrats troll Trump over Virginia governor's race Tom Glavine, Ric Flair, Doug Flutie to join Trump for Herschel Walker event MORE is meeting and considering red state Democrats for Cabinet positions as he seeks to bridge the partisan gap after a bitter and divisive election.
Sen. Heidi HeitkampMary (Heidi) Kathryn HeitkampWashington's oldest contact sport: Lobbyists scrum to dilute or kill Democrats' tax bill Progressives prepare to launch counterattack in tax fight Business groups aim to divide Democrats on .5T spending bill MORE (D-N.D.), who is reportedly under consideration for Energy and Interior secretary, met with Trump on Friday. Sen. Joe ManchinJoe ManchinPressure grows for breakthrough in Biden agenda talks Climate activists target Manchin Hoyer signals House vote on bill to 'remove' debt limit threat MORE (W.Va.) is reportedly being considered for the top energy post as well.
Both Democratic senators hail from states Trump handily carried in the election, and both face tough reelection races in 2018. Since Trump’s victory, they’ve been vocal about their willingness to work with the president-elect.
Nominating Heitkamp, in particular, could give boost to Trump’s agenda, as there would be a strong chance of a Republican replacing her in the Senate, adding to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellHoyer signals House vote on bill to 'remove' debt limit threat Biden signs bill to raise debt ceiling On The Money — Progressives play hard ball on Biden budget plan MORE's (R-Ky.) slim majority.
On Friday’s transition call, Trump spokesman Jason Miller wouldn’t confirm if either senator is being discussed for a potential administration role, calling it “too premature.”
“But obviously Sens. Heitkamp and Manchin are both very highly respected political leaders who have a lot to contribute to the national conversation and how we move our country forward,” he said.
Heitkamp has remained mum whether she’s being considered for a job. On Thursday, she reiterated her desire to work with Trump in “whatever job I do” and told reporters that the meeting presented an opportunity to discuss their "completely different life story" and talk about issues near to her heart like agriculture and energy.
Following the meeting, she quickly left Trump Tower without taking questions from reporters, according to the pool report. Heitkamp later said in a statement that they had a “thoughtful and wide ranging discussion” but made no mention about a potential job.
Heitkamp has said she wants to work with Trump on “clean coal” technologies, something he frequently touted on the campaign trail.
Manchin, a conservative Democrat who was recently tapped for a leadership position, told Politico Thursday that he hasn’t been contacted by Trump’s team and currently has no scheduled meeting in New York City. But he didn’t rule out serving in the administration.
A spokesman recently told The Hill his priorities include rolling back regulations on coal, especially since he serves in a state that’s been hit hard by the decline of the industry.
Trump has also met with Rep. Tulsi GabbardTulsi GabbardThe perfect Democratic running mate for DeSantis? Progressives breathe sigh of relief after Afghan withdrawal Hillicon Valley: US has made progress on cyber but more needed, report says | Democrat urges changes for 'problematic' crypto language in infrastructure bill | Facebook may be forced to unwind Giphy acquisition MORE (D-Hawaii), known for bucking her party. Gabbard has so far not been tapped for an administration role, but transition officials repeatedly note that the president-elect is holding meetings to gain insight and advice from respected lawmakers.
“I think it would send a powerful signal to the American people that they are in fact willing to reach across the aisle to try and get stuff done,” said Jim Manley, a Democratic strategist and former aide to Sen. Harry ReidHarry Mason ReidDemocrats brace for tough election year in Nevada The Memo: Biden's horizon is clouded by doubt Fight over Biden agenda looms large over Virginia governor's race MORE (D-Nev.).
President-elects have historically tapped members of the opposing-party to Cabinet positions to help smooth over relations after elections.
President Obama intended to include three Republicans in his initial Cabinet: Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, Defense Secretary Robert Gates, and former Sen. Judd Gregg (R-N.H.) as Commerce secretary, though Gregg withdrew his nomination.
President George W. Bush’s cabinet included one Democrat: Transportation Secretary Norman Mineta, his first pick for the post. And while President Bill ClintonWilliam (Bill) Jefferson ClintonBill Clinton expected to be released from hospital on Sunday Democratic incumbents bolster fundraising advantage in key Senate races Biden giving stiff-arm to press interviews MORE’s initial Cabinet didn’t include a Republican, he later tapped William Cohen for Defense secretary.
While a commonplace practice, some Democratic strategists warn that working in Trump’s administration will be different than serving with an establishment politician. They note that the tenor of a particularly brutal campaign has made it more difficult for Democrats to cross over.
“If President Romney calls Joe Manchin, don’t get me wrong, we’re pretty pissed about it, but he’s not quite as unpredictable and unstable as the president-elect is,” said a Democratic strategist who worked in a battleground state race in the last election cycle. “At one point, it’s a fact of life for the party. It’s going to take us some time to get used to him being president-elect.”
The potential Cabinet positions would be promotions for both vulnerable Democratic senators, but could imperil an already rough map for Democrats next cycle. Republicans are eying a number of states won by Trump as they seek to turn their likely 52-seat majority into a filibuster-proof one of 60 seats in 2018.
Even though Heitkamp and Manchin face uphill reelection paths, a vacancy in either seat could make it extremely difficult for Democrats to prevent the seats from flipping.
In North Dakota, Republican Gov. Jack Dalrymple would need to hold a special election within 95 days of Heitkamp’s vacancy. The reliably red state would already be a tough fight for Heitkamp, but it’d be difficult for Democrats to recruit a competitive replacement to run.
But there’s a bright spot for Democrats in West Virginia if Manchin leaves. The incoming Democratic Gov. Jim Justice would get to appoint a senator to serve until Manchin’s term ends in 2018. Justice could pick a Democrat to fill the vacancy, and that interim senator could gain statewide name recognition if he or she chose to run for a full six-year term.
“I think that Trump’s election actually made it likelier that Heitkamp and Manchin would be able to win reelection because the midterm dynamic is typically there’s some headwinds against the White House and the president’s party,” said Kyle Kondik, managing editor of Sabato’s Crystal Ball. “If those were open seats, they become much likelier to flip to Republicans.”
Democrats may be wary about one of their own jumping ship, but former Cabinet members say the party should welcome Trump’s overtures.
“It should not upset Democrats for a Democrat to fill one of those high-level Cabinet positions because now you have somebody on the inside who could bring a different perspective to it,” said R. David Paulison, a Democrat who served as President George W. Bush’s head Fire administrator and later FEMA director.
Richard Carmona, a former surgeon general under Bush, echoed a similar sentiment and called on Democrats who say they’d never work with Trump to reconsider.
“The election is over. It has polarized the nation, fractured our politics, made us rethink politics in our nation,” said Carmona, an independent who later ran as a Democrat for Arizona Senate.
“But the bottom line is Donald Trump is our president-elect, and now we owe him the opportunity, and it’s our obligation, to give him the chance to lead.”