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We’ve been hearing since November that partisan control of the US Senate depends on the January 5 Senate runoffs in Georgia and in a best-case scenario, Democrats would only have 50 Senators and would need to unite their entire caucus and get a tiebreaker vote from the Vice President to pass any bills.
But this is wrong. Partisan control of the Senate could still be in Democrats’ favor even if Democrats lost both Senate seats in Georgia, since we have a Democratic president and plenty of appointments to make.
According to Axios, President-elect Joe Biden still has five significant appointments to make — three cabinet positions (Attorney General, Secretary of Commerce, Secretary of Labor) and two cabinet-level positions (CIA Director and Small Business Association administrator). And if Democrats lost both races in Georgia, they would need three more Senators in order to have a 51-seat majority.
Ballotpedia shows that 37 states allow for governors to appoint senators in the event of a vacancy, and that replacement can serve out the remainder of their predecessor’s term before having to run for reelection. And currently, there are 10 Republican senators Biden could appoint who come from 23 states with Democratic governors — either to his cabinet, as ambassadors to foreign missions in more than 180 countries around the world, or to any one of 49 current vacancies in the federal judiciary. Of those 10 Republicans, eight are from states where no special election is required to fill a Senate vacancy.
Here are those eight senators:
Richard Burr (R-North Carolina)
Susan Collins (R-Maine)
Roger Marshall (R-Kansas)
Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky)
Jerry Moran (R-Kansas)
Rand Paul (R-Kentucky)
Thom Tillis (R-North Carolina)
Pat Toomey (R-Pennsylvania)
(From left: Senators Jerry Moran, Susan Collins, and Pat Toomey. Photos: Wikimedia Commons)
Remember, Biden only needs three in a worst-case scenario in which Democrats lose both seats in Georgia. If they win both, he technically doesn’t need to appoint any of these Republicans to his administration, but he should probably consider appointing a few of these if he wants to avoid having Republican-lite Senators Mark Kelly (D-Arizona), Joe Manchin (D-West Virginia), and Kyrsten Sinema (D-Arizona) stymie his legislative agenda.
It goes without saying that Senate Republicans are monstrous pieces of shit who gleefully confirmed equally monstrous pieces of shit like Amy Coney Barrett and Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court (not to mention their support for Trump’s worst cabinet picks like William Barr, Ben Carson, Betsy DeVos, Scott Pruitt, and Jeff Sessions). The trick is separating the worst of the bunch from the rest, and appointing the remainder strategically to fill the vacancies that would allow them to do the least amount of damage possible.
For argument’s sake, let’s just go ahead and strike Mitch McConnell and Rand Paul from the list of eligible Republicans, since they’re both easily the worst on the list. We’ll go ahead and strike Roger Marshall from the list too, since he’s an anti-masker and a coup supporter. Richard Burr and Thom Tillis are both hardcore Trump partisans who voted with Trump more than 90 percent of the time. This leaves Senators Collins, Moran, and Toomey as the most ideal Republican senators to target for strategic cabinet appointments.
All are unpalatable, and it’s likely McConnell is pressuring these Republicans in particular to not accept any cabinet appointments. However, it’s worth noting that cabinet secretaries not only have immense power as heads of sprawling bureaucracies and can exert significant influence over how policies are implemented, but they’re also paid $210,700 a year, which is $36,700 a year more than they make as rank-and-file senators, and even $17,300 a year more than what the Senate Majority and Minority Leaders make.
We’ll rank these last three based on their FiveThirtyEight Trump score (percentage of the time they voted in line with President Trump).
While there’s no definitive system to rank the importance of cabinet postings, my own general assessment of the influence each of the remaining cabinet positions assert would be:
Secretary of Labor
Secretary of Commerce
And of course, while the allure of a cabinet position would probably be the easiest way to try and convince a Senate Republican to upset their precarious majority, President-elect Biden could just as easily dangle an appointment on the federal bench in front of them. Like I mentioned earlier in this post, there are 49 current openings in the federal judiciary, and unlike cabinet positions, you’re not in any danger of losing your job in four years.
Biden could also simply ask senators what country their spouse has always wanted to visit, and offer them an ambassadorship to a vacation destination country like France or Italy or Spain, where they’ll make up to $187,000 a year and get VIP treatment everywhere they go.
Obviously having two more Democrats in the Senate would be great, and both Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock would be significantly better than Kelly Loeffler and David Perdue. But we shouldn’t let ourselves think their election and consistent unity of the Senate Democratic Caucus is the only way we can ever pass any legislation.
In fact, if Biden were so inclined, he could find places to appoint these Republicans even if Ossoff and Warnock win, in order to expand the Democrats’ Senate majority enough to pass statehood resolutions for Washington, DC and Puerto Rico. Both DC and Puerto Rico have passed resolutions petitioning for statehood, which means Congress is the last remaining obstacle standing in the way of their goal.
Should DC and Puerto Rico be added as the 51st and 52nd states, that would virtually guarantee four new Democratic senators, which would give the Biden administration plenty of leeway to abolish the filibuster and hold up-or-down votes on the hundreds of bills the Democratic-controlled House has already passed and that Mitch McConnell has refused to bring up for a floor vote. America would be a drastically improved country in short order.
The only question now is, does Biden have the political will to get all of this done, or will he do as Obama did for eight years, shrug his shoulders, and blame a gridlocked Senate on his inability to get anything done?