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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Pin the Appointment on the Republican

In the midst of Blagogate, it seems a smidge unseemly to be encouraging deal-making in political appointments. But Democrats are clearly not getting a filibuster-proof majority through the ’08 elections, so perhaps it’s time to turn our attention to other measures to get to 60 Senators. Toward that end, Jonathan Singer’s MyDD post “Make Olympia Snowe Cabinet-Level SBA Chief,” and the comments following his post explore ensuing ramifications, should Snowe accept a cabinet post, and Maine’s Democratic Governor John Baldacci appoint Snowe’s Democratic replacement.
Singer riffs on a post in Politico‘s The Crypt, noting Snowe’s advocacy of making the Small Business Administration a cabinet-level post, as it was during the Clinton Administration. The idea is to do so, and make her the Secretary. It’s unclear whether she would be interested, but it’s certainly worth a try
It seems like a fairly plausible scenario. Snowe has been a Senator since 1994. She always shows up atop the list of liberal Republicans. She is hugely popular in her state and influential in the Senate as a swing vote on progressive legislative reforms. She is consistently rated one of the better U.S. Senators.
There has been talk over the years of Snowe switching parties, but it just hasn’t happened. Perhaps it has been an unappealing prospect, with the Democrats’ tendency to form circular firing squads during many of her 14 years in the Senate. True, she will have additional leverage in the new Senate. Now, however, she has to look at her career ahead in light of a strong possibility that she may never be in a Republican majority again, which means no committee chairmanships. She can continue as a swing voter, deciding the fate of bills here and there, but with dimmer prospects for sponsoring and enacting major legislation, especially given her party’s knee-jerk obstruction of meaningful reforms. You couldn’t blame her for thinking it’s time for a change. Possible solutions might include switching parties or accepting an appointment in the Obama Administration.
Other “liberal” Senate Republicans in states with Democratic governors, like Collins (ME) and Voinovich (OH) could also be approached. Specter (PA) is occasionally mentioned as a switch-or-cabinet worthy Rino. If they can’t be enticed by the remaining cabinet-level positions, perhaps committee chairmanships as Democrats, where possible, would have some appeal. If we could get one or two Republicans to cross over, it could make a great difference for the better in enacting a progressive agenda, although even if they don’t switch and just vote with Dems, it will help a great deal. No doubt Sens. Harry Reid and Chuck Schumer have thought about it, and perhaps under-the-radar overtures have been made.
Most of the high-level Party-switching in recent decades has been in the wrong direction, from the Democratic point of view. (Wikipedia has a fascinating chronology on the topic). But the pendulum has swung to the left now, and it is time for Democrats to take more vigorous advantage, recruiting Republicans who are tiring of their party’s shrinking tent. Granted, the list of acceptable Republicans for Obama’s cabinet-level posts is a short one, as is the list of remaining positions that have appeal for political horse-trading. They include the Departments of Labor, Interior, Education and Transportation, CIA Director, Director of National Intelligence. Call it a long shot, but maybe it would be good if a Senate Republican who fills the bill is approached before all the positions are gone.

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