President Donald J. Trump is privately considering the appointment of two Senate Democrats to senior Cabinet-level positions in his administration ahead of the 2020 reelection campaign, a source familiar with his thinking tells The Chronicle on the condition of anonymity.
At first glance, the strategy might be chalked up merely as an effort to project bipartisanship and unity during an election year when the President’s immense popularity may sweep the electoral map — akin to Ronald Reagan‘s reelection in 1984.
But the strategy may be part of a much more elaborate and savvy political maneuver.
If President Trump decides to nominate Sherrod Brown of Ohio as his Secretary of Labor, it would create a vacancy in the Senate that would be filled by the presumably Republican appointee of Governor Mike DeWine, expanding the GOP’s narrow control of that chamber. It would also project bipartisanship to precisely the Rust Belt demographic of voters that won Trump the presidency.
If Brown declines the appointment, he would have to spend the 2022 election cycle explaining to his base of labor voters why he couldn’t serve his country when the President called. That’s a tough sell in the heart of ‘Trump Country’.
In that scenario operatives postulate that Labor Secretary Alex Acosta would be elevated to a higher profile role, perhaps tasked to lead a Marshall Plan-like monetary fund to address the migrant crisis at the southern border by investing in Latin American energy infrastructure.
For months, Trump has been privately toying with the idea of appointing Elaine Choa, the Secretary of Transportation, as United States Ambassador to the United Nations — the optics of which could be helpful in projecting a tough stance on relations with China. She would also be helpful in getting a new peace treaty with North Korea and the USMCA ratified by the Senate, presumably in a timely fashion ahead of November elections.
That open cabinet position could then be filled by either Senator Jeanne Shaheen of New Hampshire (where Republican Governor John Sununu would make an appointment to fill the seat) or Joe Manchin of West Virginia (where Republican Governor Jim Justice would make an appointment until a special election is held).
Of those being considered, Senator Shaheen is seen as the more valuable in appealing to Senate Democrats in passing legislation on federal infrastructure investment — a major policy prerogative of the administration that has been stalled by Senator Chuck Schumer.
Given Shaheen’s tenure and relationships in that caucus, she may be capable of convincing more than a dozen Democrats to break with party leaders in passing yet-to-be-unveiled legislation that would allow America’s public transit companies special access to a new ‘lending window’ at the Federal Reserve.
That lending facility would give public transit companies access to patient, risk-tolerant, long-term capital at slightly negative interest rates, thereby monetizing (at a fluctuating rate) the cost of constructing transit infrastructure over time. By setting and adjusting rates, the Federal Reserve Board will be able to optimize capital flows towards infrastructure investment, which would empower the central bank to better address job creation — a major failing of its response to the Great Recession.
Most political consultants agree that a big-tent, ‘morning in America’ messaging strategy is well advised. They point to the President’s remarkably improved approval ratings among African American voters, and his bipartisan passage of landmark legislation on criminal justice reform late last year.
If he can do the same thing on transportation — while throwing the Rust Belt a badly needed bone — it would go a long way towards achieving a spectacular second term.