If Joe Biden wants to tap a member of Congress for his cabinet, he will face some hurdles. In the House, Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s (D., Calif.) narrow margin is likely to prove a stumbling block, while in the Senate Democrats would face the complicated dynamics of replacing a sitting senator.
Thanks to their unexpectedly strong showings in congressional races across the country, Republicans have narrowed Pelosi’s margin by at least 10 seats and are expected to win at least one of the Senate runoffs in Georgia, thereby maintaining control of the upper chamber.
That means a number of House members gunning for a post in the Biden administration may be overlooked, from Obama- and Clinton-world veterans, such as Reps. Tom Malinowski (D., N.J.), Josh Gottheimer (D., N.J.), and Elissa Slotkin (D., Mich.), to Senators Elizabeth Warren (D., Mass.) and Bernie Sanders (I., Vermont).
Tapping a House member would trigger a special election guaranteed to be competitive if Biden selects a moderate from a swing district—a risk Pelosi is unlikely to greenlight. Choosing a senator would trigger a series of events that in some cases would force Democrats to change the laws in states like Massachusetts and Vermont to ensure the seat remains in Democratic hands.
Moderate Democrats are more likely to come from swing districts—like Reps. Abigail Spanberger (Va.) or Conor Lamb (Pa.), who both won close-fought races this cycle—while left-wingers like Rep. Karen Bass (Calif.) are unlikely to be confirmed by a Republican-controlled Senate. That tension is likely to be a major factor in Biden’s nominations, forcing him to look outside the halls of Congress.
The departure of any lawmaker is likely to trigger millions in Republican spending on a special election. That could be dangerous to Biden’s agenda: In 2010, Republican Scott Brown won a surprise victory over Democrat Martha Coakley to clinch the seat left open after the death of Ted Kennedy. That denied Democrats a filibuster-proof majority in the Senate, frustrating their plans to pass a public option of the sort Biden favors as part of Obamacare.