The primordial lesson a President should head in choosing people for his cabinet - the nominations to President Obama’s first cabinet in mind - is do-no-harm.
But that’s a rule the current President ignored/violated when nominating two senators and a governor – excellently qualified people I might add – to his cabinet. Especially in nominating Sen. Salazar and Gov. Napolitano Obama broke the do-no-harm rule.
Janet Napolitano’s nomination and confirmation as Secretary of Homeland Security handed the Arizona governorship to the odious Jan Brewer and deprived the Democrats of their stellar candidate to challenge John McCain in 2010. Sen. Salazar’s appointment as Secretary of the Interior created the opportunity for the republicans to challenge appointed Senator Michael Bennet and caused a fight where there should have been none had Salazar ran again. Luckily the GOP nominated an extremist and we managed to hang on to that seat two years ago. But that caused the need to spend money to shore up Bennet which could have been used elsewhere.
Now that President Obama was elected to a second term – YAY! – the lesson should be that he should refrain from appointing sitting senators to his cabinet. In this regards John Kerry has been repeatedly mentioned as a possible future Secretary of State.
And although I like Sen. Kerry and consider him to be one of the good guys and I think he would be a good Secretary of State, keeping in mind the do-no-harm rule, means he should be off the shortlist. Because the vacancy his appointment would leave will only be filled temporarily until a special election is held.
Some historically perspective: this is caused by the double change to election law in Massachusetts due to on the one hand John Kerry’s nomination as Presidential candidate in 2004 and Sen. Kennedy’s death in 2009. Originally until 2004 Massachusetts law provided for the governor to fill the seat. When John Kerry ran against George W. Bush in 2004, this created the spectre of the then Republican governor of the state – W. Mitt Romney - being able to fill his seat where Kerry to prove victorious. The Massachusetts legislature with a veto proof majority rapidly changed the law to take away the power of the governor to appoint a successor and provided that the office remain vacant until a special election be held within a couple of months after the vacancy (not waiting until the next scheduled general election). The reason being that everybody simply assumed that in dark blue Massachusetts a Democrat would be elected.
Now move fast forward to the summer of 2009 and the death of the Liberal Lion of the Senate, Ted Kennedy. Massachusetts had a Democratic governor in Deval Patrick, so the legislature once more rapidly changed the law as to give the power of appointment back to the governor but held the provision that a special election was to be held within a few months after the vacancy. That way the Democrats were able to keep their recent filibuster proof majority, they received upon Sen. Arlen Spector’s defection and Sen. Franken being finally sworn into office. As a placeholder the governor nominated Paul Kirk. But then something funny happened, instead of handily keeping the Senate seat in Democratic hands in the January 2010 special election, a Republican state senator named Scott Brown managed to snatch victory (in part aided by a lacklustre campaign from the Democratic nominee Martha Coakley).
Last Tuesday we finally got rid of Scott Brown as he was defeated for a full term by Elizabeth Warren. Do we really want to risk a repeat of the 2010 special election? If Kerry is nominated, Brown might try again and this could lead to his return to office as special elections are notoriously low turnout elections.
For that as a general rule, for his second term the President should refrain from nominating a sitting senator to a cabinet position. Whether it’s for the Secretary of State position or for any other position makes no difference. The risk of a repeat of the Brown or even the Bennet situation is to great. I hope President Obama learned the same lesson and in his second term will adhere to this do-no-harm rule.
Wed Nov 14, 2012 at 2:15 AM PT: As according to the WaPo Sen. Kerry is now rumoured to be in line to become Secretary of Defense when Secretary Panetta decides to call it a day in stead of becoming Secretary of State, my point and analysis still stays the same.