Part III of a series on Romney's potential cabinet
On Wednesday, we brought you the last of the departments where a hypothetical President Romney could avoid a messy confirmation battle for his nominees - namely, the departments of Commerce, the Interior and Transportation. Now, we begin to enter controversial territory, with three departments where the liberal vision and the conservative vision are irrevocably at odds: The Departments of Education, Health and Human Services and Labor.
There's no way around this: These three departments are integral to enforcing the dominant progressive vision, thus any of them could be used to break it. A Romney Department of Education would face the prospect of reining in teachers' unions and reinvigorating national standards in education, if Romney would even want to keep this department around in the first place. A Romney Department of Health and Human Services could be charged with dismantling Obamacare, piece by piece, using bureaucratic workarounds if full repeal can't get past Congress. A Romney Department of Labor would face the challenge of reining in labor unions and possibly even enforcing nationwide reforms to collective bargaining. Here, arguably more than anywhere else, Romney will need administrative competence and steady hands.
He will also face a Congress polarized like never before and possibly even a deadlocked or Democrat-controlled Senate. He needs the best. Fortunately, he has a highly qualified set of people to choose from to fill these posts, though many of them would not have an easy time getting past the confirmation process.
As with our previous two lists, we have broken these down into the safe choices, the exciting choices, and the wild cards. However, these distinctions will look increasingly blurry as we get higher and higher up the food chain, with many choices getting increasingly safe in terms of qualifications, but also increasingly exciting or unpredictable in terms of ideology.
Department of Education
The safe choice: Governor Tim Pawlenty
Why? Pawlenty's name has been mentioned in connection with this job by the Romney team. He certainly has the political clout with that team necessary to get a job like this on mutual friendship alone. His record on education in Minnesota is respectable without being excessively controversial and given his mild-mannered demeanor, he would be less likely to provoke a firefight in a tense confirmation hearing.
Why not? This hasn't been particularly reported as Pawlenty's area of expertise, and it could come off as a patronage appointment. He also might be deemed too timid for an ambitious education agenda.
The exciting choice: Governor Chris Christie
Why? Christie's claim to fame in the Republican party is his willingness to savage teachers' unions, both on-camera and in the New Jersey statehouse. He even mentioned the subject in his RNC keynote address. His executive ability is well-known, his willingness to work across party lines (for instance with Newark Mayor Cory Booker) is well-respected and he's well-regarded in the private sector.
Why not? Much as Christie's supporters would love a Youtube moment of Christie dressing down self-important senators, Romney might not. It's also possible that Romney would want Christie to resume his old job as a lawyer, which would leave him well placed to be Attorney General.
The wild card: Michelle Rhee, CEO of StudentsFirst
Why? If Christie is well-known for taking on teachers' unions as a governor, Rhee is known for actually setting education policy in some of the most difficult areas in the country. With a job record that starts in DC and continues through Florida, and with an almost celebrity-level status among education reform advocates, Rhee would be a cabinet-dream for many. She's also a Democrat, which would complicate things.
Why not? If Christie's confirmation hearings would be electric, Rhee's could go nuclear. She's been accused of practically every imaginable sin under the sun already and teachers' unions would lobby against her like no tomorrow. Romney might also dislike the idea of being overshadowed in this area by a cabinet member.
Department of Health and Human Services
The safe choice: Governor Bobby Jindal
Why? Jindal's name has been mentioned in connection with this job by Romney's team. It's not difficult to see why. He was Assistant Secretary of Health and Human Services under President Bush, and focused on these issues during his tenure in Congress. He's young, well-liked and has the managerial experience that Romney's looking for.
Why not? Jindal's views on social issues could prove to be a lightning rod, as could his supposed experience leading an "exorcism." Romney might also prefer someone with congressional connections.
The exciting choice: Senator John Barrasso
Why? Barrasso is one of three doctors in the United States Senate. He's also the leading voice against Obamacare in the United States Senate. Barrasso's 24 years of experience as an Orthopedic surgeon would make him a steady, expert hand at HHS, especially when it comes to reforming the costly healthcare system with a comparatively light touch. He's likely to win reelection this year and Wyoming's Republican Governor could easily pick a celebrity replacement like Liz Cheney.
Why not? Barrasso has no executive experience and is comparatively little known outside the senate. He also hasn't been particularly tied to Romney since the campaign started.
The wild card: Senator Rand Paul
Why? Like Barrasso, Rand Paul is another "senate doctor." He's less monomaniacally focused on issues relating to the medical profession, but his scathing attacks on Obamacare during the Republican National Convention combined with his chummy relationship with Romney could easily net him consideration for a cabinet job. This one in particular would enable him to trim a lot of the fat he's been so hostile towards in the Senate.
Why not? There's no guarantee that Rand Paul would want a cabinet job in a department he probably considers constitutionally illegitimate in the first place, without strong assurances from Romney that it's fine if he dismantles his own department. Those assurances are unlikely to come.
Department of Labor
The safe choice: William Kilberg, Lead Counsel for Boeing
Why? For starters, he's the chairman of the Romney Campaign's Labor Policy Committee. He's clearly trusted by Romney. He also has taken a very high profile by fighting the National Labor Relations Board on behalf of Boeing and written about his troubles. He used to serve as legal counsel for the Department of Labor and has a distinguished record on labor issues. He has an ideologically useful resume, plenty of DC connections and not much baggage.
Why not? He's quite an unknown, even given his high profile case with Boeing. Confirmation hearings could easily get sticky with pro-labor Democrats.
The exciting choice: Governor Nikki Haley
Why? Haley is from the state where the Boeing case originated and has been vocally tearing President Obama's record on labor relations down ever since that case began. She's a more conventional and more recognizable pick than Kilberg, and also one who could spice up the Romney administration even further in terms of diversity.
Why not? With all the top flight talent Romney could choose to be in his cabinet, he might decide to leave a star like Haley at home in South Carolina. Her calls for the NLRB to be disbanded could also get unwelcome attention.
The wild card: Governor Scott Walker
Why? Put simply, Walker is the one Republican governor in America with the best record of bringing labor unions to heel. He has also survived practically everything the labor union political machine can throw at him and would be able to brave similar circumstances at the national level if he were offered the job. With Walker's style of union legislation becoming popular with GOP governors, he would also be a good person to interface with state-level authorities to push the administration's agenda.
Why not? Walker is a wild card for pretty much the same reason Michelle Rhee is a wild card -- he's already a miniature celebrity and a polarizing figure. Romney might decide it's not worth the bother to be associated with him. He also might not want to leave Wisconsin, or fight again so soon.
Next time: How would Romney reverse the Obama legacy in two of the most contentious departments in the present administration? Find out who Romney might nominate for the Departments of Energy and Homeland Security, along with a possible bonus appointment prediction!
[Editor's note: The author of this article used to write speeches for Senator Barrasso.]