A President Should Pay His Debts … When He Can

As President-Elect Joe Biden has begun to name his Cabinet – so far, by all accounts competent moderates being greeted with respective sighs of relief in the foreign policy, intelligence and (given the selection of former Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen as Treasury Secretary) financial communities — I’m disappointed that I have not seen two names more frequently mentioned:  U.S. MN Sen. Amy Klobuchar and former South Bend, IN, Mayor Pete Buttigieg.

Mr. Biden’s choice of Vice President Elect Kamala Harris as his running mate proved, despite my oft-expressed severe misgivings about naming her, a smart pick.  It’s a long road ahead, but early handicapping would understandably assign her the inside track on the Democratic Party’s presidential nomination in either 2024 or 2028.  Fair enough; but she never presented a serious challenge to Mr. Biden’s quest for the 2020 Democratic Party presidential nomination.

On the other hand, if Sen. Klobuchar and former Mayor Buttigieg, who had significant support against Mr. Biden in the centrist lane of the Democratic race, hadn’t withdrawn their candidacies and endorsed Mr. Biden when they did, the likely continued division of the Democratic moderate vote would have in effect handed the Democratic nomination to U.S. VT Sen. Bernie Sanders – which, given what we have now seen from the November vote totals, almost certainly would have resulted in President Trump’s re-election.

A President should pay his debts … when he can.

During their presidential candidacies, both Ms. Klobuchar and Mr. Buttigieg were at least as strong with white Democratic moderates as Mr. Biden; what ultimately doomed their prospects was their inability to gain support from African American Democrats. 

Subject to the caveat below, I would nominate Sen. Klobuchar to be the United States Attorney General if she wanted the position.  She is a former prosecutor, but since the Biden Administration Department of Justice is certainly going to be involved on the side of minorities in any civil rights cases, Ms. Klobuchar’s high visibility in those efforts, and her necessarily sympathetic interaction with black leaders across the country, will enable her to establish positive relationships in the African American community that might facilitate a future presidential run.  The big caveat:  Minnesota Senatorial prospects.  In a state that is more conservative than generally thought, before making such a selection Mr. Biden would need to conclude that the Democrat appointed to replace Ms. Klobuchar would be able to hold the Minnesota Senate seat against a Republican challenge in 2022.  If the odds aren’t right, nominating Ms. Klobuchar isn’t feasible.

By the same token, I would nominate Mr. Buttigieg for Secretary of U.S. Housing and Urban Development.  I have heard his name mentioned as a potential Director of Veterans Affairs, but VA is a political landmine and doesn’t seem to provide a boost for a prospective presidential candidate.  Mr. Buttigieg is well-known – “Mayor Pete” – and since the Biden Administration HUD is certainly going to be sympathetic to minority concerns, Mr. Buttigieg would have ample opportunity as HUD Secretary – as Ms. Klobuchar would at Justice – to establish relationships with the African American community across the nation that would facilitate a future presidential run. 

It is clear that Mr. Biden would not have won the Democratic presidential nomination without the enthusiastic support of U.S. SC Rep. James Clyburn, who is reportedly concerned that not enough African Americans have yet been named to the Biden Cabinet and has suggested a candidate for HUD.  Mr. Clyburn’s sentiments need to be among those carrying the greatest weight with the President-Elect; that said, Mr. Clyburn’s preferences appear more general and can presumably be addressed through other appointments without slighting Mr. Buttigieg.

Progressives are reportedly increasingly concerned about the moderate nature of Mr. Biden’s first named nominees.  Their interests need to be addressed; Mr. Biden would not have won the presidency without progressives’ active support, even if their enthusiasm arose much more from loathing for Mr. Trump than regard for Mr. Biden.  I have heard Sen. Sanders say he would accept a position as Labor Secretary in the Biden Administration.  I would suggest that nominating Mr. Sanders to the Cabinet is too risky a step for Mr. Biden; no president can hire somebody he can’t control and can’t politically fire.  That said, Mr. Biden’s nominee for Labor Secretary should be someone that Sen. Sanders will enthusiastically support.

Although former GA Rep. Stacey Abrams’ expressed desire to be the President-Elect’s running mate was a pipe dream, Mr. Biden’s narrow victory in Georgia, which has given him breathing room during the Trump Conspiracy’s treasonous efforts to undercut the election, is a result of the organization that Ms. Abrams built in her 2018 run for the Georgia governorship.  She deserves something high profile in the Biden Administration to position her for another gubernatorial campaign against unpopular GA Gov. Brian Kemp in 2022.

A concluding lament about former U.S. U.N. Amb. Susan Rice, whom I considered the most qualified to be president of the three women ultimately listed as finalists to be Mr. Biden’s running mate.  Amb. Rice accepted being passed over with good grace, and deserved to be nominated for Secretary of State.  That said, given her misinformed remarks about the 2012 attack on our diplomatic compound in Benghazi, Libya — although subsequent Congressional investigation found no evidence that she had intentionally misrepresented the circumstances surrounding the attack — Mr. Biden, wisely in my view, elected not to nominate her in order to avoid what certainly would have been a hyper-partisan Senate confirmation process.  While I am confident that Mr. Biden is pleased with his choice of Antony Blinken to be Secretary of State, I hope he feels more than a pang of regret for Ms. Rice.  I do.

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