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Lawmakers in Romney Cabinet?

Top Talent May Be Difficult to Persuade to Leave Capitol Hill

Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney tapped Rep. Paul Ryan (Wis.) for his running mate – and the would-be vice president could be the leading edge of a wave of current or former Hill talent heading to the administration next year if Romney wins.

But before Republican lawmakers on Capitol Hill get too excited about the possibility of running a large bureaucracy, they should note that Romney told radio host Michael Medved earlier this year that he will tap more people from the private sector and fewer politicians and academics for these jobs. After all, his campaign has touted business acumen as essential to turning around the government and the economy.

Besides, Romney may also have a hard time wooing some of the top talent on the Hill – particularly in the Senate, where younger, more ambitious Senators lack much incentive to give up a seat. And the more senior Members are either too old for the job or are itching for a chance to legislate with a Republican in the White House again and, they hope, Mitch McConnell (Ky.) as Majority Leader.

The most obvious potential Cabinet pick – Sen. Rob Portman – told Roll Call last month that he’s not interested, having already served in the George W. Bush administration as U.S. trade representative and director of the Office of Management and Budget. The Ohio lawmaker said he could be more valuable on Capitol Hill helping to drive the new president’s legislative agenda.

“I plan to stay where I am,” Portman told Roll Call at the Republican National Convention. “I’ve focused a lot on breaking through the partisan gridlock and getting stuff done. … Frankly, I’m worried about our country, and everything major that has to happen has to go through the Congressional process.”

Still, some believe Portman could be wooed if he were offered Treasury secretary with a mandate to run the administration’s tax reform efforts.

Sen. Kelly Ayotte has been talked about by some Republicans as a potential attorney general. The New Hampshire lawmaker served as attorney general in her home state, has impressed her colleagues with her grasp of the issues, is very close to Romney and, like Portman, was in the mix during the veepstakes. But an Ayotte pick could be complicated by the outcome of the gubernatorial election in New Hampshire this year. With the Senate certain to be closely divided, Romney surely won’t pick anyone without knowing that he or she will be replaced by a Republican.

Retiring and retired Hill lawmakers historically are an easier get. Think former Missouri Sen. John Ashcroft getting tapped as attorney general by Bush after Ashcroft lost his seat in 2000.

Several Republicans at the convention mentioned retiring Sen. Jon Kyl (Ariz.) as an ideal Cabinet pick, but Kyl emphatically told Roll Call that he wants to leave public service and join the private sector.

Kyl, Portman and other top Republicans have already met with Mike Leavitt, the former secretary of Health and Human Services who is heading up Romney’s transition team and soliciting advice from senior GOP lawmakers on everything from Cabinet picks to legislative strategy.

Rep. Pete Sessions (Texas) spotlighted a couple of retiring House Members as excellent picks: Rules Chairman David Dreier (Calif.), one of the smartest and savviest GOP lawmakers, and Rep. Steven LaTourette (Ohio), a close friend of Speaker John Boehner (Ohio), who Sessions said would make an ideal secretary of Labor.

Dreier told Roll Call that he’s looking forward to going back to California. But if Romney called, he’d have to consider it.

Top Romney surrogate and former Missouri Sen. Jim Talent has been talked about as a potential pick for secretary of Defense, and retiring Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) has been mentioned for secretary of State or Homeland Security. Lieberman, who chairs the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, has already said he hopes to stay in public service and isn’t ready to retire. And some GOP aides pointed to retiring Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison (Texas) as another Cabinet possibility.

Talent told Roll Call at the convention that the process of selecting Cabinet members isn’t as far along as some people think it is; Romney is focused first on winning the job. And then there’s the shakeout of who might lose a seat and suddenly become available for a job.

But Talent said he’d be honored to be considered.

Ayotte’s predecessor, Judd Gregg, would seem to be a natural fit for a Romney administration. Gregg is so well-respected on both sides of the aisle that Obama named him to his Cabinet before Gregg pulled out with second thoughts.

The former Senate Budget chairman would bring with him bipartisan street cred, a granular understanding of how the Senate and the legislative process work, and no shortage of intellectual heft.

Sen. John Thune (S.D.), another of the party’s rising stars, also has been talked about as a potential Cabinet pick, but it strikes his colleagues as doubtful that he’d want a post instead of working his way up another notch in GOP leadership and potentially plotting his own run for president somewhere down the line. The same would apply to Sen. Marco Rubio (Fla.). Sen. Ron Johnson, a former business executive who has already tried running for leadership and has ties to the tea party wing of the GOP, could fit the bill, although the Wisconsin lawmaker demurred when asked whether he should be included in this story.  

Then there are other Romney surrogates – such as Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (Wash.) – who could add diversity and a strong personality to Romney’s Cabinet. McMorris Rodgers could chair the Republican Conference next year if she doesn’t get a nod from Romney. McMorris Rodgers told Roll Call that she’s not sure she would want a job if it were offered, noting – as others do – the demands of her young family.

Romney may be more likely to hire governors and former governors who have backed him and were talked about as veep quality, GOP strategists and aides suggested. They have appeal in that they have already run large government enterprises as Romney has. Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell is term-limited. And Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal also could fit roles both as a reformer and someone with relationships on the Hill from his time in the House. But other governors may not be interested. Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker told reporters that he would stay in his job, noting that no one would work as hard as he has – he recently survived a recall effort – only to give it up.

Karl Rove also has touted former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush as a potential secretary pick for the Defense, Treasury or State departments, while others see him as ideal for secretary of Education.

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