The great Post-Election Cabinet Speculationfest is upon us, and the scuttlebutt indicates that Massachusetts Senator John Kerry is at the top of the list for Defense Secretary, which will likely open up at some point in Obama’s second term. Immediately, various anonymous Republicans threatened to make such a nomination a pain in the ass for Obama and Kerry. One GOP aide predicted to Buzzfeed that Kerry would “run into a buzz saw of Vietnam vets,” while another believes that “Republicans will probably dredge up every email, document, memo, and diplomatic cable surrounding Kerry’s role as unofficial envoy to Bashir Assad, forcing another difficult Obama foreign policy into the forefront.”
Our guess is that such sentiments represent nothing more than token push-back, and that Kerry’s nomination wouldn’t face any serious hurdles. But it would be absolute madness if the remarks do, in fact, reflect the actual thinking of the GOP.
As everyone is aware, Kerry’s elevation to a cabinet post would open up a Senate seat in Massachusetts, providing the just-defeated Scott Brown with an opportunity to rejoin the Senate without even having to take on an incumbent. Why would Republicans do anything to dissuade Obama from setting this chain of events in motion? Do they have a personal vendetta against Brown, despite his unique position as the only Republican in the entire state of Massachusetts capable of winning a Senate seat? First, GOP senators blocked Elizabeth Warren’s confirmation to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, thus freeing her up for an ultimately successful run against Brown. And now the potential opposition to Kerry’s nomination, Brown’s only route back to the Senate for the foreseeable future.
Of course, any discussion of the hypothetical nomination’s bad political strategy can’t exclude President Obama, who should be hesitant about the idea of Secretary Kerry for the same reason that the GOP should be thrilled. Yes, the Democrats gained two seats last week, bumping their majority up to 55. According to the Washington Post, administration officials believe that the gains “provided a cushion that allowed them to consider Kerry’s departure from the chamber.”
But why risk diminishing the Democratic majority at all when there are plenty of other suitable would-be defense secretaries who aren’t sitting senators? Just to reward a friend? That probably won’t seem worthwhile if an important piece of legislation ever falls one vote short of passage and Scott Brown is the deciding no vote — an admittedly unlikely but hardly impossible scenario.