A rumor has been floating around that the White House is considering Senator Joe Manchin (D-WV) as a replacement for Secretary of Energy Rick Perry. As incompetent as the Trump administration has been since it took power, this move would be a step in the right direction and a win for the Republican Party.
Politically, it makes perfect sense for a president to nominate a senator from the opposite party if the governor of the state he/she represents is also a member of the president’s party. Such an appointment would appear to the public as a genuine attempt to reach across the aisle while also giving a member of the president’s party a chance to appoint a senator. In this case, Trump would be offering a red state Democrat a Cabinet position, giving West Virginia’s newly Republican governor a chance to appoint a Republican replacement to Manchin’s seat. This strategy isn’t novel, and a few other red state Democrats have been floated around as possible Cabinet nominees for the same reasons; for example, back in December, Heidi Heitkamp (D-ND) was on the list of possible nominees to the Department of Agriculture.
Of course, Trump’s post-election good will—limited as it was—has all but run out. If he wanted to maximize the impact of nominating red state Democrats to Cabinet positions, he should have done so back in January. However, if Manchin indeed gets nominated and accepts the position, it could help advance Trump’s stalling agenda. First, nominating Manchin would likely gain Trump a 53rd Republican senator, expanding the party’s majority in the chamber while also potentially giving him a 50th vote in favor of repealing the Affordable Care Act. A larger majority would also be hugely important for future battles over tax reform, immigration, and infrastructure.
Second, Manchin would be a more natural fit for the Department of Energy than Rick Perry, who back in 2011 promised to eliminate the department if elected president. Manchin has been a member of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee since his election in 2010 and also hails from coal country, which would give him more expertise to enact Trump’s agenda than Perry, whose bachelor’s degree in animal science hardly makes him qualified. Trump could instead move Perry to the Department of Homeland Security, where his Air Force background could be put to better use.
I’m unsure about how valid these rumors are, but even if they’re true, there’s no guarantee Manchin would agree to take the job. Aware of the repercussions for his party, reputation, and the more controversial elements of Trump’s legislative agenda, he might be motivated to turn it down. Becoming a member of the Trump administration would make him the most reviled Democrat in America, especially if his joining the administration were the difference between passage and failure of a GOP healthcare bill. Then again, accepting the offer would mean he’d no longer be faced with a difficult 2018 reelection campaign that would feature challengers from the both progressive left and the populist right.
At any rate, this would be a strategic move for a very un-strategic president. I doubt it would seriously turn around Trump’s dumpster fire of a presidency, but a win is still a win, no matter how small.