By Jim Ellis
Dec. 5, 2016 — Donald Trump may be looking to find cabinet members who bring him immediate tangible policy and political benefits. A new prospective appointee, if chosen, would even increase the president-elect’s strength in the United States Senate.
North Dakota Sen. Heidi Heitkamp (D) made her way to New York yesterday to speak with Trump. If the president-elect tabbed her for an administration position, it would allow him to reach out to Democrats while simultaneously paving the way for incoming Gov. Doug Burgum (R) to appoint a Republican to replace her. Assuming John Kennedy (R) wins the Louisiana Senate run-off on Dec. 10, as expected, replacing Heitkamp would boost the Senate Republican Conference to 53 members.
The senator won a close upset victory in 2012, defeating one-term at-large Rep. Rick Berg (R) by a one-point margin. She is now preparing for what is likely to be a highly competitive 2018 re-election bid, but accepting a position in the Trump Administration would obviously require her to resign the Senate seat. With North Dakota voting patterns now going solidly Republican – Trump received 63 percent in the Nov. 8 election compared to 58 percent for Mitt Romney in 2012, and John McCain’s 53 percent eight years ago – Republican conversion prospects in a post-appointment election would be bright should Heitkamp depart.
Another Democratic senator whose name is being mentioned, this time for a specific position (Secretary of Energy), is West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin. Unlike the North Dakota situation, it is unlikely that a Republican would receive a Senate vacancy appointment because both the outgoing and incoming Mountain State governors are Democrats. The move would, however, make the 2018 election a wide open affair and transform itself into the Republicans’ top national conversion target.
Additionally, choosing Manchin from an industrial coal-producing state would certainly send strong signals to the Trump voter base (West Virginia was the President-Elect’s second strongest state at 68.3 percent), and to anti-extraction environmentalists. Therefore, similarly with a potential Heitkamp appointment, choosing Sen. Manchin would bring multiple benefits to a President Trump in several different ways.
The coming days will again bring us further appointment intrigue and further enhance our game of political musical chairs.
Late last week, California Gov. Jerry Brown (D) announced that Rep. Xavier Becerra (D-Los Angeles) would be his choice to replace Kamala Harris as the state’s Attorney General. Harris will resign her office just before she is sworn in as the state’s newest US Senator in January.
Becerra was re-elected to the House in November, scoring 77 percent of the vote against a fellow Democrat as a result of California’s election system that can send members of the same party to the general election.
Rep. Becerra was first elected to Congress in 1992 after spending one term in the California Assembly. He is currently the Democratic Conference chairman, a position that will now go to a different member.
The 34th District of California is a compact central Los Angeles CD that contains the city’s downtown business center along with Chinatown and Koreatown. It is a heavily Democratic district, with 58 percent of the registered voters belonging to the Democratic Party as compared to just 9 percent who are Republican. The seat is 64 percent Hispanic.
Once Mr. Becerra officially resigns, Gov. Brown will schedule a special election. Once the choice of Becerra for attorney general became public, Assembly Speaker John Perez (D) immediately declared himself a candidate in the replacement congressional special election.