In her 2005 book “Team of Rivals,” Doris Kearns Goodwin recounts Abraham Lincoln’s wisdom in bringing his former political rivals together to create a new administration, given the stakes of the impending Civil War and his hopes to end slavery. While the stakes during this presidential election may be different, they are still as high, as America drifts aimlessly around a failed president, civil and racial discord, the weight of the coronavirus pandemic, and untold economic uncertainty.
Should he win the presidential election on Nov. 3, Democratic nominee Joe Biden will find himself in a similar position to Lincoln, faced with the idea of bringing his former political rivals to the governing table to take on this tumultuous moment in our country’s history. As a fierce advocate for the most vulnerable among us, Biden would be wise to have former presidential candidate Senator Elizabeth Warren at that table. There are multiple arguments both for and against Warren joining a new Biden administration or continuing to represent Massachusetts in the Senate. Given her passion, commitment, and intellect, there is no wrong answer.
One thing is certain, however: Continued Democratic control of the Senate seat she holds should not be a consideration.
Governor Charlie Baker, arguably one of the country’s most popular governors, has built his own personal Republican brand by distancing himself from the Trump administration and the national party. In recent weeks, Baker has taken several contrarian positions around the nomination of Judge Amy Coney Barrett to the US Supreme Court, including a refusal to sign a national letter of support circulated by the Republican Governors Association. If he were to appoint a successor to fill the Senate seat vacated by Warren, he might not choose a Republican and risk damaging this carefully cultivated independence and a potential third term.
There is also a scenario where Baker is not given the authority to make the appointment if the Legislature decides to amend the current rules — something it has done twice. In both instances, the Legislature limited the gubernatorial appointment to a finite number of days — and not the remainder of the term, thus taking away the political advantages gained from longer service or the legislative accomplishments that can accompany that longer service. Additionally, the Legislature has altered the definition of a resignation — the precipitating event to call a special election — which is done for no other reason than to alter the political calendar to their party’s advantage.
Add to that the policy emerging in numerous states — Arizona, Hawaii, Maryland, and Utah, to name a few — where the governor is required to appoint an interim senator with the same party affiliation as the outgoing one. In an effort to demonstrate the will of the voters, and taking the deliberations well beyond finite appointment terms and the nuances of resignation definitions and dates, the Legislature could pass similar legislation — even after a Biden win in November. Doing so would secure that Warren would be followed by a successor of her party’s choosing.
Even in the unlikely scenario that Baker retains his authority over the process and appoints a Republican to fill the open seat, his or her term in the Senate would be fewer than three months. While that thought may still cause some mild anxiety for Democrats, the reality is that most major pieces of legislation will not be decided during this short window of time. For example, major legislation pushed in President Obama’s first term happened well beyond this window, due to the complexities of the legislative process. The Affordable Care Act and Dodd-Frank, to name just two, were introduced to Congress later in 2009 and signed into law the following year.
If Warren announced her resignation in mid-November, with an effective date of Jan. 19, 2021, the election of her successor would inevitably be held by April 13. With a deep bench of highly regarded rising stars, including Representative Ayanna Pressley and Attorney General Maura Healey, coupled with strong statewide voter registration and a highly polarized environment due to the Trump era, there is no realistic scenario where Democrats would lose the Senate seat.
All eyes are now on whether Biden can win next month, as they should be. If he does, there are many considerations for Warren to join his administration, and many considerations for her to stay in the Senate. Either way, Democratic retention of the seat is safe — both in the short and long term — and Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell’s strategy for Republicans retaining control of the Senate will not be at all aided by Warren’s decision to accept a position in a Biden administration.
Drew O’Brien is an executive vice president at Burson, Cohn & Wolfe in Boston and previously served as senior advisor to John F. Kerry in the US Senate and the Department of State.