Opinion

The Great Debate

Cabinet appointments from Senate can backfire

By Joshua Spivak
November 3, 2010

The Democrats have faced no end of trouble from senatorial special elections and appointments over the last two years. An indictment, an embarrassing loss, and charges of nepotism and questions of basic readiness for the job have haunted the Democrat’s picks.  The party had to fill six open slots (the Republicans had to fill one in Florida). Two of these, Ted Kennedy and Robert Byrd’s seats, were unavoidable. Barack Obama’s and Joe Biden’s seats were dint of their election. Obama’s cabinet appointments of Hillary Clinton of New York and Ken Salazar of Colorado opened up two other special election races.

From these six vacancies of popular elected officials, the Democrats are lucky that they haven’t lost five of the seats.

Kennedy’s seat should have been safe – its loss was a shock. But the only really safe seat among the rest was Hillary Clinton’s in NY. The Democrats lucked out in Delaware, where Mike Castle would have been an overwhelming favorite to win, had he not lost the primary to Christine O’Donnell. The night’s young but the party has a good chance of losing both Illinois and Colorado. Obama’s cabinet appointments also could come under fire for appointing two Democratic Governors, which immediately reverted to Republican Chief Executives.

The only recent president who appointed any sitting Senators to his first cabinet was Bill Clinton, who chose Texas Senator Lloyd Bentsen to head Treasury. The Democrats proceeded to lose that seat. George W. Bush took another direction – he took two recent ex-Senators, John Ashcroft and Spencer Abraham.

I’m not sure who was the last president to dip into the Senate for two cabinet members. Obama actually wanted a more strategic third (New Hampshire Republican Judd Gregg). But you can be sure future presidents won’t make the same cabinet decision.

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