Senate majority battle snags Biden Cabinet hopefuls

A razor-tight Senate margin is complicating President-elect Joe BidenJoe BidenTrump alludes to possible 2024 run in White House remarks Tiger King's attorney believes they're close to getting pardon from Trump Cruz urges Supreme Court to take up Pennsylvania election challenge MORE's strategy for filling his Cabinet by making it more difficult to pick sitting lawmakers for plum posts.

Normally, members of Congress would be at the top of the list for an incoming administration looking to poach talent from the party's ranks on Capitol Hill.

But with Biden wanting to move fast and control of the Senate in limbo until early next year, he’ll have to think twice before tapping congressional Democrats — a move that could open up a seat for Republicans to try to flip or tip the scales in a closely divided Congress.


“I think the vice president understands that politics is a game of addition and multiplication, not subtraction and division,” said Democratic strategist Antjuan Seawright.

“I can’t see a scenario where [Biden] will risk losing numbers in the Senate that he would need to deliver an agenda that is so critical,” he continued. “You could argue the same point with a swing-district member of Congress.”

Democrats in both the House and Senate are looking at thin margins that could make it difficult to justify picking a member of Congress for a Cabinet position if it risks depleting the party’s ranks or setting up a special election in a red or purple state.

Republicans are poised to enter January with 50 Senate seats to Democrats’ 48 seats. Which party will control the majority will come down to two Jan. 5 runoff elections in Georgia. If Democrats win both they will have the majority because Vice President Harris could break a 50-50 tie. Even if they lose one or both, the GOP majority will still be capped at 51 or 52 seats.

In the House, Democrats are seeing their majority whittled down to the low 220s with Republicans viewing the slimmed-down majority as a chance to squeeze Democrats on procedural votes like motions to recommit, where they’ve had success getting moderates to break ranks.

Sen. Ben CardinBenjamin (Ben) Louis CardinDemocratic senators urge Facebook to take action on anti-Muslim bigotry On The Money: Biden, Democratic leaders push for lame-duck coronavirus deal | Business groups shudder at Sanders as Labor secretary | Congress could pass retirement bill as soon as this year Top Democrat: Congress could pass retirement bill as soon as this year MORE (D-Md.) caveated that the potential blowback of picking a senator was speculative, because it depends on what happens in Georgia, but “I think that’s an issue that President-elect Biden needs to consider.”


“It might be a zero-sum game so it may not make any difference as far as the control of the Senate is concerned,” Cardin said. “Everything else being equal, senators have been in Cabinets and they’ve done great jobs.”

Asked about picking senators, Sen. Tom CarperThomas (Tom) Richard CarperOVERNIGHT ENERGY: Kerry says Paris climate deal alone 'is not enough' | EPA halts planned Taiwan trip for Wheeler| EPA sued over rule extending life of toxic coal ash ponds Overnight Energy: Biden names John Kerry as 'climate czar' | GM reverses on Trump, exits suit challenging California's tougher emissions standards | United Nations agency says greenhouse gas emissions accumulating despite lockdown decline GSA transition delay 'poses serious risk' to Native Americans, Udall says MORE (D-Del.), a close Biden ally, said that “there are good reasons to choose senators, many of them are experts in different parts of policy.”

But pushed if doing so could risk opening up a seat, Carper added with a laugh, “you have to be very careful.”

“You have to use some judgment. Some discretion would be called for,” Carper said.

Spokespeople for Biden’s campaign and transition team didn’t respond to questions about potential Cabinet picks.

Several senators are being publicly discussed for positions, a move that could set off a game of musical chairs if they are picked.

Sen. Chris CoonsChris Andrew CoonsThe Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Mastercard - GOP angst in Georgia; confirmation fight looms Overnight Health Care: Moderna to apply for emergency use authorization for COVID-19 vaccine candidate | Hospitals brace for COVID-19 surge | US more than doubles highest number of monthly COVID-19 cases Bipartisan Senate group holding coronavirus relief talks amid stalemate MORE (D-Del.) is being floated as a potential secretary of State for Biden, whose Senate seat he holds. Coons, a member of the Foreign Relations Committee, is frequently discussed as being in the mix along with former Ambassador Susan Rice and former Deputy Secretary of State Tony Blinken.

Coons could be easier to confirm in a Republican-controlled Senate because he’s widely respected in both parties. But in a narrowly controlled Congress, Coons could also be an asset to Biden in his current post because of those same deep ties with GOP senators.

Coons, during a recent ABC News interview, made it clear he is interested, saying, “I’d be honored to serve.”

Coons comes from a safely Democratic state. Under Delaware law, a vacancy would be filled by Democratic Gov. John CarneyJohn Charles CarneySenate majority battle snags Biden Cabinet hopefuls Here's where the National Guard is activated on Election Day Suspect in Whitmer kidnap plot was pardoned in Delaware last year MORE and his successor, if he’s picked, is widely expected to be Rep. Lisa Blunt Rochester.

Biden has been in touch with Senate Minority Leader Charles SchumerChuck SchumerMcConnell: COVID-19 relief will be added to omnibus spending package Overnight Health Care: Moderna to apply for emergency use authorization for COVID-19 vaccine candidate | Hospitals brace for COVID-19 surge | US more than doubles highest number of monthly COVID-19 cases The five biggest challenges facing President-elect Biden MORE (D-N.Y.) since winning the White House race, but the two have not discussed the potential that the president-elect could pick members of the Democratic caucus to join the administration. Asked about the possibility, Schumer told reporters that Biden “has not consulted me on that issue.”

Sen. Chris MurphyChristopher (Chris) Scott MurphyOvernight Defense: Defense bill among Congress's year-end scramble | Iranian scientist's assassination adds hurdles to Biden's plan on nuclear deal | Navy scrapping USS Bonhomme Richard after fire Biden faces new Iran challenges after nuclear scientist killed New Jersey to halt indoor sports, cap outside gatherings MORE (D-Conn.), whom progressives are championing as a secretary of State pick, noted that rules for replacing senators vary by state and that he’s “sure the president-elect will take that into consideration,” but that Biden “should have the broadest pool of applicants, or choices, at his disposal as possible” including senators.


“I want President-elect Biden to pick the best people and if there are people who he thinks can serve him who are in the Senate, he should have the right to make those choices,” Murphy said.

Another pick from a solidly blue state would be Sen. Tammy DuckworthLadda (Tammy) Tammy DuckworthOvernight Defense: Trump orders troop drawdown in Afghanistan and Iraq | Key Republicans call Trump plan a 'mistake' Top Democrat calls Trump's Afghan drawdown 'the right policy decision' as others warn of 'mistake' Overnight Defense: Another Defense official resigns | Pentagon chief says military 'remains strong' despite purge | Top contender for Biden DOD secretary would be historic pick MORE (D-Ill.), who has garnered speculation as a potential pick to lead the Department of Veterans Affairs. But former GOP Sen. Mark KirkMark Steven KirkSenate majority battle snags Biden Cabinet hopefuls The Hill's Morning Report - Sponsored by Facebook - Senate makes SCOTUS nominee Barrett a proxy for divisive 2020 Senate Republicans scramble to put Trump at arm's length MORE (Ill.) previously won his Senate seat in 2010, a vacancy that was created by then-Sen. Barack ObamaBarack Hussein ObamaObama chief economist responds to McConnell quoting him on Senate floor: He missed 'a critical part' Amazon reports .8B in weekend sales from independent businesses on its platform Ossoff features Obama in TV ad ahead of in Georgia run-off MORE's White House victory. 

Other potential picks could risk opening up seats that Republicans could either appoint a member of their party to or risk giving Republicans a pathway to flipping a seat in a special election.

“It depends on the state and how the appointment process works, but in a state with a Republican governor, you run the risk of losing numbers,” Seawright said.

Sens. Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth WarrenOn The Money: McConnell offering new coronavirus relief bill | Biden introduces economic team, vows swift action on relief | Rare Mnuchin-Powell spat takes center stage at COVID-19 hearing Biden introduces economic team, vows swift action on struggling economy Louisville mayor declares racism a public health crisis MORE (D-Mass.) and Bernie SandersBernie SandersDeVos knocks free college push as 'socialist takeover of higher education' The Hill's 12:30 Report — Presented by Capital One — Giuliani denies discussing preemptive pardon with Trump Manchin: Ocasio-Cortez 'more active on Twitter than anything else' MORE (I-Vt.) are both being pushed by progressives as picks to lead the Treasury and Labor departments, respectively. 

But if Democrats control the chamber in a 50-50 tie, nominating either could give GOP governors in both states an opening to appoint their successors and flip control of the narrowly divided Senate.

Sen. Pat ToomeyPatrick (Pat) Joseph ToomeyAppeals court rules NSA's bulk phone data collection illegal Dunford withdraws from consideration to chair coronavirus oversight panel GOP senators push for quick, partial reopening of economy MORE (R-Pa.), asked about if he could support Warren for Treasury Secretary, cast doubt on Biden picking her because of the Senate implications.


"I doubt very much that Secretary Warren would be on the nominating table because the governor of Massachusetts is a Republican and replacing her with a Republican senator probably wouldn't go really well with Senator Schumer," Toomey said during a Washington Post Live interview.

In a potential de-ecalation of that risk, a Democratic state representative in Massachusetts already proposed a budget amendment to alter the appointment process by requiring the governor to appoint an interim replacement of the same party as their predecessor. And in Vermont, GOP Gov. Phil Scott said late last month that he anticipates he would look at a “more left-leaning type of independent that would obviously caucus with the Democrats."

If Republicans control the Senate the risk could be twofold: Though the majority wouldn’t hang in the balance it would give Republicans a chance to strengthen their hold on the chamber. It would also risk either giving up a Senate seat only to be rejected by Republicans.

“McConnell is never going to let a progressive like Elizabeth Warren become Treasury Secretary,” a Democratic strategist said about Biden’s picks.

Senators from states with Democratic governors are also reportedly under consideration, including Sen. Amy KlobucharAmy KlobucharHillicon Valley: YouTube suspends OANN amid lawmaker pressure | Dems probe Facebook, Twitter over Georgia runoff | FCC reaffirms ZTE's national security risk Democrats urge YouTube to remove election misinformation, step up efforts ahead of Georgia runoff YouTube temporarily suspends OANN account after spreading coronavirus misinformation MORE (D-Minn.), who is up for reelection in 2024. 

While Biden carried Minnesota in the election, Republicans have increasingly turned their sights on the state. Democratic worries bubbled up late in the 2020 cycle that Biden or Sen. Tina SmithTina Flint SmithSenate majority battle snags Biden Cabinet hopefuls Smith wins reelection in Minnesota Democrats expand Senate map, putting GOP on defense MORE (D-Minn.) could be vulnerable in the state, prompting a last-minute campaign stop from Biden. Republicans also control the state Senate.


Klobuchar told CNN shortly after the race was called that Biden had not spoken to her about a Cabinet position, adding that “I think part of that is that I made clear, I like what I'm doing and I think it is a very critical role right now."

Safer picks for Biden from the Senate could be retiring lawmakers.

Sen. Tom UdallThomas (Tom) Stewart UdallFormer Sen. Carol Moseley Braun stumps for Interior post: 'A natural fit for me' Five House Democrats who could join Biden Cabinet Overnight Energy: Biden names John Kerry as 'climate czar' | GM reverses on Trump, exits suit challenging California's tougher emissions standards | United Nations agency says greenhouse gas emissions accumulating despite lockdown decline MORE (D-N.M.) is under consideration to be Interior Secretary and Sen. Doug Jones (D-Ala.), who lost his November election, is also in the mix for Biden’s attorney general spot.

Asked this week, Jones didn’t rule out accepting an administration post.

“I want to see the Biden-Harris administration succeed, I really do,” Jones said. “If I can contribute, great, but you know we'll see how it goes.”