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Sunday, January 17, 2021

Why the media are suddenly chattering about Joe Biden’s cabinet

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Presidential candidates are often warned not to measure the drapes, a reminder that first they have to actually win the election before sitting in the Oval Office.

Maybe the media could use a similar reminder, based on a recent spate of stories.

The subject is who will serve in President Biden’s Cabinet.

With less than three weeks before Election Day, journalists want to know, or are suggesting, who would work at the highest levels of the Biden administration.

The caveat here, of course, is that there may not be a Biden administration. There were a spate of stories in 2016 forecasting the Hillary Cabinet which, well, turned out to be a fantasy.

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The media are obsessed with polls, and WashPost/Fox/NBC and other surveys are giving Biden a lead of 10 to 16 points. A bunch of other surveys show the former vice president ahead, by much closer margins, in the crucial battleground states, sometimes just outside the margin of error.

But I’ve always regarded the Cabinet speculation game as a tell for who most media people believe will be sworn in the following January. Most journalists have clearly convinced themselves, based on polls and a gut feeling that the country must be as sick of President Trump as they are, that Biden will be the one staffing the government.

Sure, it’s a parlor game, and ultimately harmless. But like stock futures, it reflects a mindset as to where the political market is heading. And lately there’s been no shortage of day trading.

The latest round began with Axios saying that Andrew Cuomo is in line to be Biden’s attorney general, and that aides “at the National Governors Association, which Cuomo chairs, are looking into contingencies for replacing him,” according to two unnamed sources.

What’s more, “the governor is being pushed for the job and that Biden would consider him, based on their long friendship.”

Anyone who knows the New York governor–I first interviewed him more than three decades ago–has a hard time imagining him abandoning the Empire State in the middle of his third term to be a Cabinet member. He’s already done that, as Bill Clinton’s HUD secretary. It might be different if the former state attorney general had moved on from Albany.

And even Axios notes that Biden would be “under pressure to name a racially and gender-diverse Cabinet.”

Then CNN followed up, noting Cuomo’s insistence that he has “no interest in going to Washington.” And the story pointed out that CNBC had already floated Elizabeth Warren, now a phone pal of Biden’s, as a “compelling contender for Treasury secretary.” But she’d have to give up her seat in a tightly contested Senate (see what happens when you go too far down these rabbit holes?).

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Politico’s Playbook was up next, and while noting that the Biden campaign says it isn’t “preparing anything,” the column has some “very, very informed chatter” (wink wink): 

Ron Klain, who’s worked for Biden more than once, as chief of staff (that seems a safe bet). Sen. Doug Jones for attorney general (which assumes he loses his Alabama reelection bid). Michele Flournoy for Defense secretary. Several contenders, including Susan Rice, for secretary of State. Pete Buttigieg would be either VA secretary or U.N. ambassador. And on and on.

And for good measure, the Washington Times reports that a Washington lobbying firm says Biden might name Mitt Romney–to something–as “an olive branch to the GOP establishment.”

If these stories have any importance, they are a way for potential Cabinet members, allies and interest groups to push for their favorites–and push back against those deemed ideologically unacceptable.

What about a Trump second-term Cabinet? That’s not getting much media attention.

But when Newsmax host Greg Kelly asked whether Bill Barr would still be around, the president said: “”I have no comment. Can’t comment on that. It’s too early,” Trump said. “I’m not happy with all of the evidence I have, I can tell you that. I’m not happy.”

Apparently the Democrats don’t have a monopoly on Cabinet intrigue.

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