President-elect Joe Biden’s victory has set up the ultimate political guessing game in Massachusetts. Senator Elizabeth Warren for Treasury Secretary? Boston Mayor Martin J. Walsh for Labor Secretary? Representative Stephen Lynch for Postmaster General?
Those moves, should Biden ever decide to make them, are logical enough given the backgrounds and passions of each person.
But should Biden want to tap anyone from Massachusetts to be in the cabinet, the most politically savvy move would be to get Governor Charlie Baker on the Biden train, whether as Secretary of Health and Human Services or Secretary of Commerce or something else.
The idea of Baker going to Washington for Biden briefly came up a few weeks before the election and was quickly dismissed by Baker himself.
“You’re going to be stuck with me for at least the next two years,” Baker told reporters referring to when his term is up. “It’s flattering to be considered but I like the job I have.”
Here’s the ironic twist: should Warren, Walsh, Lynch or any Massachusetts Democratic officeholder be asked to join the Biden administration, they are expected to say yes. Baker, who could be more likely to actually be asked, is expected to turn it down.
Yet, as long as these three facts exist, Biden should keep the option of Charlie Baker, the secretary of something, on the table.
Fact Number 1: Biden was partly elected on his call to heal the deep political divisions in the country. The wide gulf in worldviews between Republicans and Democrats might actually be so vast, no president could bridge it. (It certainly was too wide for Barack Obama, who pledged to do the same, to bridge.) But one thing that is absolutely in Biden’s control is to have something of a bipartisan cabinet. To do that, he will need to seek out and offer top jobs to Republicans.
Fact Number 2: Biden needs to factor in who could get confirmed in a Mitch McConnell-controlled US Senate. It is an uphill climb, to say the least, for Democrats to win both run-off Senate elections in Georgia. If they win neither or only one, then Republicans will control the entire nomination process, from who gets to testify when to which nominees are confirmed to Biden’s cabinet.
This is potentially the biggest stumbling block for Warren to get a role like the Treasury job — even more so than the fact that Baker would likely name a Republican to her seat for a few months until a special election is held. In the past, it used to be standard practice for the Senate to be deferential to a president’s choices for his cabinet and especially so if the nominee was a current or former senator. There is no reason to believe that level of decorum will exist next year, and especially if the nominee is an outspoken progressive like Warren.
Fact Number 3: Picking Baker has the side benefit of really helping Democrats in Massachusetts, whereas Warren vacating her seat for a role with the Biden administration would set off a bunch of Democratic dominoes, with basically every Massachusetts politician running for something.
As Democratic strategist John Walsh put it to the Globe’s Matt Stout, if Warren leaves her job then, “I guarantee somewhere in Massachusetts there’s a school committee member thinking of running for selectman. Because a selectman is going to run for state representative. Because the representative is thinking of running for state senator. Because the senator [is eyeing something else].”
If Baker leaves, the impact is smaller. Lieutenant Governor Karyn Polito becomes acting governor and a lot more Democrats will be interested in running for governor in 2022 than if Baker stays and decides to run again. For Massachusetts Democrats, that would be huge. If he runs, they essentially have no plan to beat Baker, who consistently has ranked as the most popular governor in America.
One final point: Should Biden be interested in picking Republicans he thinks he could work with and who would also give his party a bit of a boost, then the list is actually quite small.
Senator Susan Collins may not be interested in joining the administration after working so hard to win reelection. However, if Collins were gone, then Maine Governor Janet Mills, a Democrat, could name a replacement that, under state law, would last until the 2022 elections. This could be an especially important flip from Republican control to Democratic control in a tight Senate. This may also be the exact reason why Collins would never do it.
The other Republican Senators from states with a Democratic governor include Jerry Moran of Kansas; McConnell and Rand Paul of Kentucky; Ron Johnson of Wisconsin; Richard Burr and Thom Tillis of North Carolina; John Kennedy and Bill Cassidy of Louisiana; and Pennsylvania’s Pat Toomey. On that list only Toomey might be interested, given that he has already announced he will not run again in 2022 and has been willing to be critical of President Trump.
As for Republican governors, all endorsed Trump except for Baker, Vermont’s Phil Scott, and Maryland’s Larry Hogan. Hogan is term-limited in Maryland so he will be gone soon. Won’t help Democrats.
Scott might be interested and, yes, that would make newly elected Democratic Lieutenant Governor Molly Gray governor, which would help Democrats.
But that is nowhere near the big political impact taking Baker out of the running for 2022 would have in Massachusetts.