McConnell reportedly eyes constraints on possible Biden cabinet picks

If Biden prevails, Mitch McConnell apparently expects to wield veto power over the next administration's cabinet choices.
Image: Sen. Mitch McConnell Holds Press Conference To Discuss Election Results
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell delivers remarks in Louisville, Ky., on Nov. 4, 2020.Jon Cherry / Getty Images

As a rule, newly elected American presidents are afforded broad discretion when choosing their teams. Cabinet nominees, with rare exceptions, are usually confirmed without much controversy.

But Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) may have a different approach in mind. Axios reported this morning:

Republicans' likely hold on the Senate is forcing Joe Biden's transition team to consider limiting its prospective Cabinet nominees to those who Mitch McConnell can live with, according to people familiar with the matter.... A source close to McConnell tells Axios a Republican Senate would work with Biden on centrist nominees but no "radical progressives" or ones who are controversial with conservatives.

It's important to emphasize that much of this appears premature. We can't yet say with certainty who'll win the presidential race, and there's still a degree of uncertainty about which party will hold the Senate majority next year.

But if Biden prevails, reports like these appear to be an early shot across the bow: McConnell apparently expects to wield veto power over the next administration's cabinet choices. If Republicans deem prospective nominees "controversial," the Senate stands ready to reject them -- regardless of qualifications or traditional American norms.

It brings to mind last week's Senate confirmation vote on Justice Amy Coney Barrett's Supreme Court nomination and the emergence of the "because we can" standard articulated by Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.). As we discussed, it's political dynamic that says, if you have the political power, you exercise that power. Period. Full stop.

Norms and traditions are irrelevant. Propriety is irrelevant. Restraint is irrelevant. Values are irrelevant. Precedent is irrelevant. If a political party is acting within the limits of the law, there's no reason for that party to pause in pursuit of its goals.

Would McConnell & Co. apply the "because we can" standard to a new president's cabinet choices? Evidently, yes.

Postscript: It's not yet clear what Senate Republicans would say or do if a Democratic administration adopted Donald Trump's approach, which has featured the appointment of "acting" cabinet officials, circumventing the Senate confirmation process.