No Congressmen in Biden Cabinet?

Competing priorities.

For days, there has been talk that President-Elect Biden has adopted an informal “no Senators” rule for his cabinet, reasoning that the Democrats can’t afford to risk losing a single seat in that body. Now, it seems that a similar rule is emerging for the House as well.

Confronted with a shrunken majority, House leaders are discouraging fellow Democrats from taking jobs with the incoming Biden administration — out of concern that Republicans could nab any vacated seats, sources told The Post on Sunday.

Insiders variously accused House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Ca) and Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) of urging Dems to stay put to preserve their fragile majority.

“Nancy is telling House members, ‘Now is not the time to leave,'” a Democratic Party official who’s been briefed by Democratic congressional reps said.

But another House insider said House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) is urging Democratic congressional reps to stay put, and told the Biden transition team not to poach its members because of the party’s slim majority following the Nov. 3 elections.

The sensitive topics of jumping ship to work for Biden amid the loss of House seats came up at a House Democratic caucus meeting last week.

“It’s not helpful to talk about that,” a member of Democratic leadership reportedly said on the call regarding House Dems wanting to relinquish their seats and work for Biden.

“The feeling is: don’t make rash decisions about going to the administration without first considering consequences to the caucus,” a Democratic insider familiar with the call said.

The report is in the New York Post, which has serious credibility problems, and is thinly sourced. Still, it’s quite plausible.

It’s worth noting that the Speaker’s office vehemently denies it:

Pelosi’s office denied that the speaker is pressuring House Democrats from resigning to work for Biden.

“This is completely false. The Speaker wants the full contribution of House Democrats to the Biden-Harris mandate and to the future represented in the Administration,” said Pelosi spokesman Drew Hammill.

And the report continues with countervailing information:

Last week, The Post revealed that Biden was eyeing a bipartisan list of 30 members of Congress known for working across the aisle for key administration posts.

The Biden transition team is looking at 20 lawmakers serving in the House of Representatives and 10 in the Senate who received the US Chamber of Commerce’s Jefferson-Hamilton 2020 award for bipartisanship.

An insider said that the Biden team is looking more closely at the House — where Democrats are in the majority — rather than the Senate, the fate of which is up for grabs depending on two special elections in Georgia in January.

We’ll see soon enough, I expect, who Biden wants for the cabinet. It’s only natural, though, that someone who spent so long in the Senate would be drawn to people from the Hill—and especially the type worthy of “Jefferson-Hamilton” recognition.

Still, party control is a real concern and one could understand the motivation of leadership. The decks are already stacked against Democrats because of gerrymandering in the House (likely to get worse next cycle given Republican control of most state legislatures) and the skew provided by the Senate. Add in the natural tendency of the party that controls the White House to lose seats in the midterm election, it’s a huge risk.

I don’t recall this being a publicly-discussed consideration in previous changes of administration. Congress has been a source of quite a few cabinet appointees over the years. But, even in “safe” states, it can backfire. See Jeff Sessions’ longshot replacement by Doug Jones in the Alabama special election. (For that matter, recall Scott Brown’s shocking win in Massachusetts after Teddy Kennedy’s death.)

Regardless, this is yet another instance where the Schoolboy Civics understanding of American politics collides with reality. The Federal Papers sold a story of institutional prerogatives, local interests, and institutional design checking the tendency toward factions. But the biggest factions of all are the two major political parties—and pretty much every other interest or concern is subservient to their fight for power.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Kathy says:

    How would McConnell work out as Secretary of Defense?

  2. James Joyner says:

    @Kathy: I can’t imagine he’d take the gig but there is precedent for plucking cross-party Senators for cabinet posts. Bill Clinton’s selection of Bill Cohen for Defense comes to mind. Susan Collins, has longtime staffer, was his successor, so it didn’t result in a party turnover.

  3. Scott says:

    I’m not sure Senators and Representative necessarily make good leaders and administrators unless they have experience leading large organizations. Just because they understand the legislative process doesn’t mean they can run things. My personal prejudice, of course. We’ve all seen the messes made by business leaders in government. So there’s that.

    The real question, I think, is what kind of leader is needed at this point. To me, it is fix and normalize the government after 4 years of intentional and unintentional destruction of institutions.

  4. Kathy says:

    @James Joyner:

    I can’t imagine he’d take the gig

    Yeah, me neither. That’s the big flaw.

    It’s not about the balance of the Senate, but about removing a known, skilled obstructionist from the crucial Majority Leader spot.

  5. Paine says:

    I’d like to see AOC tapped as Secretary of Triggering the Cons.

  6. Michael Reynolds says:

    I want Adam Schiff tapped for the important job of, now, how exactly can we fuck Vladimir Putin?

    I actually wish a job could be found for some member of The Squad as outreach to the future. But I don’t think AOC or her friends have the discipline or loyalty that would be required.

  7. James Joyner says:

    @Michael Reynolds:

    I don’t think AOC or her friends have the discipline or loyalty that would be required.

    Agreed. They’ve frankly been much better at self-promotion than governing and have royally pissed off a big chunk of House Democrats. Granted that they’re still novices and in incredibly safe districts, they’re really marching to their own drummers at this point.

  8. Michael Reynolds says:

    @James Joyner:
    Progressives generally seem incapable of gratitude or compromise and they will turn on an ally at the drop of an incorrect pronoun.

    I’m mostly with them on issues and I share their impatience, but I find them humorless and smug and not much more capable of facing reality than Trumpies. ‘Defund’ was a stupid slogan that probably cost us seats – but they insist that couldn’t be because, well, they’re right and being right they couldn’t possibly have made a mistake.

  9. Pylon says:

    Maybe Biden will shockingly pick experts in the field for the cabinet posts. Sally Yates, Susan Rice, Michele Flourney. And there’s plenty of political talent outside the legislature. Doug Jones, Yang, Buttegieg, O’Rourke etc. are all free. It looks like Jamie Harrison may get DNC head.

  10. Matt says:

    @Michael Reynolds: Personally I would of called it “refund the police”. “we need to reallocate police funding to adequately target deficiencies in enforcement and training.” Shit like that.

  11. Michael Reynolds says:

    Jamie Harrison would be an excellent choice for DNC. That man’s campaign can squeeze a dollar out of you with unequaled persistence.

  12. Scott F. says:

    @Michael Reynolds and @James Joyner:
    Read this article in Vanity Fair on Cortez-Ocasio before you dismiss her out of hand. It’s a cover story, so it’s kind of fluffy, but I came away with a much better appreciation of the congresswoman and her skills.

    She’s young and her initials are easy to remember, so she has become a shorthand for something that is much bigger than she is. That’s a two edged sword, but it’s going to be people who underestimate her that end up being cut.

    [And yes, Defund the Police was/is an awful bumper sticker, but the position on police funding is right on the merits which should count for something.]

  13. Michael Reynolds says:

    @Scott F.:
    Oh, I don’t dismiss AOC at all. She’s very smart, very nimble, a brilliant communicator and the future of the Democratic Party. She’s also inexperienced, self-righteous and incapable of admitting error. She’s the Congressperson from Park Slope who thinks she understands how to elect a Democrat in Oklahoma, which is the inexperience talking.

  14. Loviatar says:

    @Scott F.:

    Read this article in Vanity Fair on Cortez-Ocasio before you dismiss her out of hand.

    You’re wasting your time suggesting James or Michael read the article and change their opinion of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (AOC). James is a Republican and AOC is a young Hispanic woman, he will NOT change his mind. Now that the election is over Michael is well into hippie-punching mode. No, let me take that back, he is always into hippie-punching, but now hes just more vocal.

    Hippie = anyone to the left of Rahm Emanuel.

  15. Michael Reynolds says:

    @Scott F.:

    And yes, Defund the Police was/is an awful bumper sticker, but the position on police funding is right on the merits which should count for something.

    The old rule in politics is if you’re explaining, you’re losing. Live by meme, die by meme. To be fair, I suck at slogan so I don’t have a better one to offer.

  16. Michael Reynolds says:


    Now that the election is over Michael is well into hippie-punching mode. No, let me take that back, he is always into hippie-punching, but now hes just more vocal.

    Actually, I like and admire AOC and have repeatedly said she’s the future of the party. In fact, I’m hard-pressed to think of a single policy position of hers I have major disagreement with. I support M4A, I’d like to save the earth from climate change, I think wealth inequality is a serious issue – and probably unlike you, when I call for tax increases I’m spending my own money not some fictional other’s money. Hell, I support UBI and drug legalization. I was for gay marriage before Andrew Sullivan was. I’m a very vocal supporter of trans rights. And unions. And a livable wage.

    Rahm Emanuel?

    But thanks for demonstrating the intolerant brittleness of progressives. Either 100% uncritical agreement, or you’re an enemy of the people. And that’s why no one likes progressives, even people like me who, on the issues, are progressives.

  17. Sleeping Dog says:

    Not choosing Senators or Reps for representation reasons is a win for Biden. Let him find a 50 yo state executive with ties to Labor rather than Bernie and another for Treasury. Promote younger Dems rather than the passing generation.

    Regarding The Squad, it’s not surprising that Pressley has not been heard from, as of the 4 she has been the most circumspect and measured in her comments, probably because she is the most experienced pol who is looking to move up to the Senate when a vacancy occurs. That Tlaib and AOC have been loud and proud was expected. Tlaib know’s she has no chance in a statewide election and AOC may dream of the Senate, but being the most popular pol in 4 of the 5 counties of NYC, doesn’t mean she a lock for even the Dem nomination forget about the general. And Omar has been quiet. Likely due to her huge under performance to Biden, trailing his vote totals in MN5 by ~71000 and 15+%

  18. Scott F. says:

    @Michael Reynolds:
    The future of the Democratic Party has it about right and that’s the nub of the matter, I’d said. The question of the moment is whether the regional differences between Park Slope and Oklahoma matter as much as the generational differences between a media savvy 31 year old and some 65 year old Dem partisan from Tulsa.

    I don’t know which way things are going to go, but my gut tells me that Biden’s tenure will be transitional. Without a Democratic Senate (and even with one that is a 50/50 split), there won’t be much happening over the next 4 years that isn’t recovery and restoration of the combined effects of the pandemic and Trump. I don’t see any of the squad jumping from the House to the Executive for that.

    I’ll be watching for what’s being set up as a succession plan for VP Harris. If some good work is done there, the future of the Democratic Party will start with Kamala.

  19. Jax says:

    I fear I am never gonna be able to pronounce her name correctly the first time around. My brain automatically reads it as Ka-Molla, and I have to force it back around to Komma-la.

    I guess I can just go with the standard Madame Vice President, now, can’t I?!

  20. Michael Reynolds says:

    @Scott F.:
    My take as well. A 50/50 Senate is better than nothing, but not a lot better as we’ll be subject to the whims of Joe Manchin. As for Kamala, I don’t know, I like her but progressives hated her, at least at one point, because she liked to lock people up. (Not a huge fan of prosecutors myself, ahem.) I think long-term we’ll follow the progressive program because it makes sense – in the future. It makes sense now, but now is Mitch McConnell, so making sense is nearly irrelevant.

    So little of politics is about giving good speech or good Twitter. Climate change means convincing people to pay for something because it’ll be really important 30 years from now. I mean, maybe you can convince Americans to sacrifice today for some long-term pay-off, but really? Free, universal health care has been the right idea for decades at least, and yet here we are. Demilitarize and reform cops? Absolutely. How? That’s trench warfare at the City Council level. Are progressives going to fight that bloody fight against police unions for the decades it will take?

    So far progressives have accomplished nothing. And they will go right on accomplishing nothing if they insist on extrapolating from their Park Slope/Berkeley/Ann Arbor/Austin mentality to the country as a whole. But try telling a progressive we’re going to decide to run a male candidate in Shortdick, Kentucky because Shortdick, Kentucky is backward AF and with a guy we have a chance and with a woman we don’t. See how that flies. How about a candidate who is 100% on every issue, but five years ago used the word, ‘tranny.’

    Here’s what you’ll get: but, why should we have to _____? Fill in the blank with wait, or compromise, or tolerate. If you argue, because if we don’t win we can’t do anything, you’ll get abused as a mere liberal or whatever the meme insult du jour is.

    They’re privileged white college-educated kids with very little experience of the world beyond their summer internship at a non-profit. Excellent at tweeting and striking bold poses. My friend @Loviator was abusing me the other day for imagining (the effrontery!) that donating money to causes and candidates was on the same plane as protesting in the street. Protesting is theater, useful, but very limited. Money, OTOH, is a Council member calling me up to ask what I’d like them to focus on. Let’s see what’s more effective, me waving a sign and chanting in Downtown LA, or me saying, “Well, Councilweasel, I want you to stand up to the police union and by the way, here’s another grand for your campaign.”

    Oh, the dirtiness of it! Eww.

    I think the cultural and experiential gap between a dozer operator in Kansas and AOC in Park Slope is so vast they might as well be talking different languages. And progressives will veto any attempt to bridge that gap unless they can remain pure and pristine as they build the bridge.

    Which gets to why I’m ‘hippie punching’. I don’t give a fuck about striking poses, I want to win, because my job as a Democrat is to help people who can’t help themselves, not to keep my hands clean. It’s not about me in my ivory tower, it’s about the fact that there are families sleeping under bridges, and Black men having the shit beat out of them by cops, and kids taken from their mothers. Real people rely on us. We have a duty to those people. Will I sully myself by legalized bribery of a politician to help those people? Goddam right I will, because I’m a Democrat.

    (Cue: But if we keep doing things the same old way nothing will change!)

  21. Scott F. says:

    @Michael Reynolds:

    Real people rely on us. We have a duty to those people… Goddam right I will, because I’m a Democrat.

    I tell my kids I’m a Pragmatist more than I’m a Democrat, but in my lifetime, with the Republicans broken and nihilistic since Gingrich (at least), that may be a distinction without a difference.

    I want the big problems solved, while I think factual evidence and a working moral compass point very clearly to what the big problems are and it shouldn’t be so damn hard to agree on the facts and on right vs wrong. I’ll work with anybody, I’ll try any potential remedy, and I support keeping trying until the solution is found. “Don’t let the Perfect be the enemy of the Good,” as we say in my line of work.

    Kamala the Cop, Alexandria the Green, Mayor Pete of McKinsey, Good Ol’ Joe – who am I to turn up my nose at anyone wants the change I want?

  22. Tony W says:

    No reason to poach Congress when there are guys like Mayor Pete out there available.

    Frankly, I think a lot of people like myself would come out of retirement to work for Biden.