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The doors may be closing on the chances of a Republican in President-elect Joe Biden’s Cabinet and, honestly, so what? There’s no good reason for him to name one, and lots of reasons to give this tradition a pass.
Biden’s picks to date leave no doubt that you can assemble an excellent team of people who collectively look like America; all you have to do is try. In fact, the most difficult diversity challenge may be to find a Republican — if that's even a priority for the Biden transition.
Most of the party is in thrall to President Donald Trump or pretending to be, meaning most of the party is disqualified. In many cases, Republicans who had the integrity and patriotism to endorse Biden are not aligned with his policy objectives. They are much appreciated but in no way suited for posts like attorney general or labor secretary (still open at this writing) in a Democratic administration.
Spotlight a Democrat at Commerce
A Republican might be appropriate to lead the CIA, but why not seize the moment to showcase Democrats' commitment to the intelligence community and protecting America? The Commerce Department and Small Business Administration are plausible, but why fuel the idea that Republicans have cornered the market on being good capitalists?
Democrats were battered as radical socialists for the whole 2020 campaign and are still fighting that ridiculous branding in the home stretch of Georgia’s Jan. 5 Senate runoffs. Naming business-minded Democrats to head Commerce and the SBA would send a different message, one closer to reality and more useful for elections like the pair in Georgia next week.
Another traditional home of cross-party nominees is the Transportation Department, but Biden has already named Pete Buttigieg for that job. It’s a signal that this won’t be a backwater. And it wouldn’t have been a good fit for a conservative, anyway, given the ambition, cost ($1.3 trillion over 10 years) and climate change focus of Biden’s infrastructure plan.
Former GOP Rep. Ray LaHood inadvertently made the case against a Republican in Biden's Cabinet in recent comments on his tenure as President Barack Obama’s Transportation secretary. According to Politico, he said Obama had sent him to help win Republican votes for the 2010 Affordable Care Act and the 2009 economic stimulus bill, and “it was something that worked well for the Obama administration.”
Really? How? The ACA initially passed the House with one Republican vote and the Senate with not even one (despite months of delay as Senate Democrats negotiated with Republicans in the vain hope of winning a few crossover votes). A total of three Republicans — three senators and zero House members — voted for the 2009 stimulus bill amid what was then the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression.
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Biden is completely in character and probably right to talk up bipartisan cooperation in areas like fighting COVID, providing pandemic economic relief and defending against cyber attacks. He may even be right to say that Americans “want us to reach across the aisle and work together on matters of national concern to get something done.”
But the operative part of that is “get something done.” It's fine for Biden to talk up hands across the aisle; that’s his brand, and that’s how he won. The real test will be if, or more likely when, Republicans make unrealistic demands or simply refuse his outstretched hand.
Witness to Republican obstruction
That's especially true on policy goals that don’t relate to COVID but that do have broad public support: secure and convenient voting, tighter ethics and transparency requirements on presidents, a higher minimum wage, police reforms, a more progressive tax code, expanded gun background checks, and relief of some sort for people struggling with student loan debt. At some point, most of the country will be more interested in getting something done than in who, exactly, helped do it.
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For eight long years as Obama's vice president, Biden was schooled in and victimized by the Republican art of obstruction — from bait and switch tactics that held out false hope of GOP votes on bills like the ACA (which incorporated conservative tenets of personal responsibility and private-sector insurance), to recurrent, flat-out threats to not raise the debt ceiling (sparking fears of U.S. and global defaults), to the blockade of Obama’s Supreme Court nominee for nearly a year (culminating in Republicans' ruthless 30-day push to seat Amy Coney Barrett and cement a 6-3 conservative majority on the court).
One hopes that if history starts to repeat itself, Biden will be as aggressive as he must be. Meanwhile, he doesn’t need a Republican in his Cabinet or inner circle. In this world, the one we live in now, it would not signal strength or produce an envoy with great persuasive powers over the opposition. It's a quaint idea from another age. Let it go, at least until that age returns.
Jill Lawrence is the commentary editor of USA TODAY and author of "The Art of the Political Deal: How Congress Beat the Odds and Broke Through Gridlock." Follow her on Twitter: @JillDLawrence
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This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Joe Biden's Cabinet is diverse enough. He doesn't need a Republican.