Why Are Tom Vilsack and Janet Napolitano in the Obama Administration?
This is a good post from Matt Yglesias:
One could imagine a world in which instead of serving as Secretary of Agriculture, Tom Vilsack was running for the US Senate seat currently held by Chuck Grassley. Vilsack would probably lose such a race, but one reason he would probably lose such a race is that Grassley could badly undercut his campaign by reaching an agreement with Senate Finance Committee chairman Max Baucus to produce a bipartisan health care reform bill.
Similarly, if Janet Napolitano were running for senate instead of serving as Secretary of Homeland Security that might be giving John McCain some incentive to deal.
This is one of those ways in which I don't understand the appointments process. I understand that given other career options, like an appointment to a Cabinet position, Tom Vilsack might not want to run against Chuck Grassley and Janet Napolitano might not want to take a shot at John McCain. Both of them could lose, and then they're unemployed and electorally tarnished. But the thing about an appointment is that the president can make it at any time. So why not just assure Tom Vilsack and Janet Napolitano that if they lose their elections they will be appointed secretary of agriculture and secretary of homeland security, respectively? Maybe they still don't want to run for Senate. But maybe then the president doesn't want to appoint them at all because they clearly don't care for his agenda all that much.
On the other side, it's not as if there's some massive benefit Obama got from choosing the former governor of Arizona to be the secretary of homeland security as opposed to, say, Bill Bratton. As far as I can tell, appointing popular politicians who could mount a credible Senate campaign is pretty much all downside.
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