McConnell huddles with GOP rep to discuss possible ND Senate opening

McConnell huddles with GOP rep to discuss possible ND Senate opening
© Victoria Sarno Jordan
The Tuesday meeting at the National Republican Senatorial Committee headquarters near the Capitol touched on various scenarios that could play out in the coming days and weeks involving the North Dakota Senate seat now occupied by Democrat Heidi HeitkampMary (Heidi) Kathryn HeitkampJoe Manchin's secret Supreme Court battle could wreak havoc with Biden's 2020 agenda Effective and profitable climate solutions are within the nation's farms and forests MORE.
President-elect Donald TrumpDonald TrumpCuban embassy in Paris attacked by gasoline bombs Trump Jr. inches past DeSantis as most popular GOP figure in new poll: Axios Trump endorses Ken Paxton over George P. Bush in Texas attorney general race MORE is considering Heitkamp for either Agriculture or Energy secretary. The two met at Trump Tower a week ago, and Heitkamp has had follow-up calls with some of Trump’s top aides.
McConnell and other GOP leaders are eager to expand their narrow three-seat advantage in the Senate. Having Trump tap two red-state Democrats — Heitkamp and Sen. Joe ManchinJoe ManchinSenators scramble to save infrastructure deal GOP sees debt ceiling as its leverage against Biden Democrats brace for slog on Biden's spending plan MORE (D-W.Va.) — for key Cabinet posts would be one way to quickly achieve that goal.
Manchin, who is threatening to shut down the government Friday over what he sees as inadequate health benefits for coal miners, is set to meet with Trump early next week, likely to discuss the Energy secretary post.
The GOP will hold 52 seats if Republican John Kennedy defeats Democrat Foster Campbell in Louisiana’s Senate runoff on Saturday. 
If Heitkamp gets the nod, a special election would need to be held in North Dakota within 95 days. Cramer, an early Trump supporter who also is being considered for the top Energy job, would be the favorite to win the Senate seat. 
As the at-large congressman for North Dakota, Cramer already has had the luxury of running for statewide office so voters there are familiar with him; he just won his third House term last month.
If Heitkamp isn’t asked to join the Trump Cabinet, it’s likely Cramer would challenge her in 2018, he has told friends and colleagues. Heitkamp's shown an independent streak and is popular in North Dakota, but she'd face a difficult race: Trump crushed Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonA path to climate, economic and environmental justice is finally on the horizon Polling misfired in 2020 — and that's a lesson for journalists and pundits Biden flexes presidential muscle on campaign trail with Virginia's McAuliffe MORE (D) in the state, 64 to 28 percent.
The McConnell-Gardner-Cramer meeting is more evidence that the politically savvy majority leader is taking an active role in trying to orchestrate the departure of red-state Democratic senators early in the 115th Congress. 
Having a slightly larger GOP majority would make it that much easier for Trump and McConnell to pass key priorities like repealing and replacing ObamaCare and tax reform. 
“There’s some collaboration” between McConnell and the presidential transition team, said one GOP source familiar with the Tuesday meeting. “His message was 52 is a good number, but 53 or 54 is a lot better number. And the sooner the better.
“He is a very shrewd son of a bitch.”