Part II of a series on Mitt Romney’s potential cabinet appointments. Read Part I of the series (Agriculture, Housing and Urban Development, and Veterans Affairs) here.
On Wednesday, we brought you the first part of a series on who Mitt Romney might pick as his presidential cabinet for three of the lesser-known but still relevant cabinet positions. Now, we dive a little deeper, taking a look at a few medium-level posts that are still likely to attract genuinely high-profile figures to serve in them – namely, the people who Romney could select to fill his Departments of Commerce, the Interior, and Transportation.
Each of these has implications for Romney’s agenda, with his Commerce pick being able to define the White House’s approach to new technology, including the expansion of internet access, while the Interior Department pick would signal a Romney attitude on the environment, and Transportation would give us a window into his thinking on how to maintain the country’s infrastructure.
As with the last article, we have broken down the contenders for these positions into three categories – the safe choice, the exciting choice, and the wild card, with arguments for and against each. In some cases, these are names that have already been floated. In others, they will be people who have been missed, but are still relevant. It should also be noted that some of the names listed here may appear twice, or on other forthcoming lists, given that their expertise qualifies them equally well for multiple positions. More to the point, a daring, exciting choice in a larger department could well be a safe choice in a smaller one, and far be it from us to ignore potential permutations.
So without further ado, here are the results:
Secretary of Commerce
The safe choice: Former Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison
Why? Hutchison’s retirement leaves her former post as ranking member of the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee vacant. What’s more, there’s no need to fill Hutchison’s seat, given that the election to fill that seat is also this year (hence Ted Cruz’s likely victory). As a charismatic, relatively moderate female official with years of experience covering these issues, Hutchison would be an easy compromise pick for Romney, and probably wouldn’t mind capping off her career in Washington with a cabinet appointment.
Why not? Hutchison has no private sector experience, and no management experience, both of which Romney has said are key things he will look for. Moreover, Hutchison is damaged goods ideologically. Her thorough destruction in her run for Governor against Rick Perry already alienated conservatives in her home state, and it’s not clear that she would hold to the sort of hardline positions at Commerce that Romney’s team might want.
The exciting choice: Luis Fortuno, Governor of Puerto Rico
Why? Aside from being a popular, successful Hispanic governor whose political futures are compromised by governing a non-state, Fortuno fits the mold of the commerce secretary picked by Romney’s Republican presidential predecessor, George W. Bush. In fact, Carlos Gutierrez, one of Bush’s former commerce secretaries, is advising Romney, so it’s likely that Romney would look for someone in that vein to take the job. Fortuno’s name has also been mentioned in connection with both this position and the Interior Department.
Why not? Fortuno is young, and may lack the foreign policy chops necessary to take a position so focused on trade. Romney may prefer to put him at the Interior Department.
The wild card: Donald Trump
Why? Trump’s name has been floated in connection with this post before. And once you get past his bombastic public image, that makes sense. Trump is a highly successful businessman, with very clear opinions on trade (especially with China), and is familiar with managing international partnerships for the sake of commerce. He’s also an outspoken Romney ally, even if his methods of advocacy don’t always make Romney’s supporters feel safe. That’s not a resume to sneeze at, controversy or no.
Why not? The confirmation hearings would be a circus, and he’s already said he wouldn’t take a White House job.
Secretary of the Interior
The safe choice: Luis Fortuno, Governor of Puerto Rico
Why? As mentioned above, Fortuno has been mentioned in connection with this post, or with Commerce, by Romney’s team. Given the abundance of strong candidates for the Commerce job, it seems more likely that he’d be placed in this position. Fortuno has been a steward over one of America’s most beautiful territories, while also encouraging economic growth – a key mix, given how Romney’s Interior Department will have to thread the needle between utilizing our national resources and exploiting them. He’s also used to dealing with liberal criticism in this context.
Why not? Romney may decide he’s a better fit at Commerce, after all. If he isn’t in the Cabinet, though, that would be surprising.
The exciting choice: Senator James Inhofe
Why? Inhofe is one of the most high profile advocates for increased energy production in the Senate. He is also one of its most vocal climate skeptics. An appointment of Inhofe would send a clear signal to environmentalists that this administration is not interested in catering to their demands, while still being less controversial than appointing Inhofe to a post like EPA Administrator, which would be a complete slap in the face of the Left.
Why not? Inhofe’s views on the environment, and especially on climate change, are extremely controversial, and a confirmation hearing for him would have the potential to turn into a public relations nightmare.
The wild card: Senator Joe Manchin
Why? Picking Manchin would be a move of true political jujutsu. In one fell stroke, Romney would make his cabinet bipartisan, send a signal that his administration will be pro-coal (in contrast with the Obama administration) and open the way for a less popular replacement senator to be nominated in Manchin’s place, who could easily be picked off down the road. Never mind that regardless of party, Manchin would be qualified for the position, and has the kind of managerial chops Romney might want. After all, he came to the Senate after being governor of his state.
Why not? Manchin’s still a Democrat, and might not particularly want to be put in charge of the Interior Department under Romney. He’s bucked his party on issues specific to his state, but a move like this might be considered a bridge too far, both for him and Romney.
Secretary of Transportation
The safe choice: Congressman John Mica of Florida
Why? Mica is the current Chairman of the House Transportation Committee, but due to term limits, will lose his gavel at the end of this year. Putting him in this post would enable him to gracefully give up his old seat. His name has been mentioned by the Romney team as one of the leading contenders for this post, and given his nearly 20 years of experience, he’d be a steady hand doing it.
Why not? Mica’s name isn’t the only one the Romney team has mentioned in connection with this post. Nor is he the one whose qualifications line up most neatly with what Romney’s team might be looking for in a future Transportation secretary. He has no private sector experience or managerial experience, for instance, and the fact that he’s been targeted by the Tea Party might make him too moderate.
The exciting choice: Marion Blakey, CEO of the Aerospace Industries Association
Why? Unlike Mica, who would likely be nominated for a post like this out of a desire to smooth over his loss of one political position, Blakey would bring very little political baggage, if any, to the post. She would increase the diversity of the Romney cabinet, while also beefing up its private sector/management-oriented character. Her two past government positions – head of the Federal Aviation Administration, and Chairman of the National Transportation Safety Board – would preserve her from the charge of being completely untried.
Why not? Blakey’s nomination would open her and the potential Romney administration to charges of corruption. A 2007 USA Today story mentions that after leaving her post as head of the Federal Aviation Administration, Blakey was assailed by critics for accepting a position with an organization that lobbies that very same body. If Romney wants to send a message that he’s not going to play the same access games in his cabinet, she’s the wrong pick.
The wild card: Governor Bob McDonnell
Why? “His excellency,” as McDonnell is apparently called in Virginia, will be term limited out of his job come 2013 (Virginia Governors cannot serve multiple consecutive terms). As such, if Romney appointed him to this job, it would give Romney a campaign ally and Virginia Lieutenant Governor Bill Bolling an inside track on incumbency. Besides political favors, however, McDonnell could be a strong choice given his infrastructure-dependent home state.
Why not? McDonnell’s appointment could be seen solely as a game of political favoritism precisely because it puts Bolling in office, depriving Virginia Attorney General and Tea Party favorite Ken Cuccinelli of a fair shot. Romney might want to avoid the appearance of cronyism.
Next: Who Romney might pick to lead the departments conservatives love to hate — Education, Health and Human Services, and Labor!