Heidi Heitkamp: Another Democrat who would likely turn down role in Trump cabinet

The North Dakota senator has suggested she would prefer to stay in Congress. That's good news for party members who are wary that Trump is trying to loosen Democrats' hold on Senate seats in red states.

Mike Segar/Reuters
Sen. Heidi Heitkamp (D) of North Dakota arrives for a meeting with President-elect Donald Trump at Trump Tower in New York on December 2, 2016.

Sen. Heidi Heitkamp (D) of North Dakota says she is likely to stay right where she is – in the Senate.

Last week, sources close to President-elect Donald Trump and his transition team said Senator Heitkamp was being considered for the position of Agriculture secretary, one of the few remaining cabinet positions available in Trump’s cabinet.

But Thursday morning Heitkamp went on her brother’s radio program to suggest she will likely remain in the upper chamber of Congress.

“I’m not saying ‘never, never,’ but I will tell you that I’m very, very honored to serve the people of North Dakota and I hope that no matter what I do, that will always be my first priority,” said Heitkamp, according to a Roll Call report. “The job that I have right now is incredibly challenging. I love it.”

The center-leaning Democrat has earned a reputation for bucking party lines, especially on agricultural and environmental issues.

Heitkamp is not the first Democrat to be considered for a position in Trump’s cabinet, only to be removed from consideration. Hawaii Rep. Tulsi Gabbard met with Trump and his transition team in late November, and rumors swirled that she was being considered for top jobs at the State Department or Defense Department.

More recently, West Virginia Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin was rumored to be a cabinet contender, only to later announce that he will be staying in the Senate.

Senator Manchin and Heitkamp are Democratic senators from states with many rural, working class voters – the same voters that helped Donald Trump win the election.

Successful Democratic leaders in these states are crucial to the party's ability to move forward after the 2016 election, as The Christian Science Monitor reported earlier this month:

Democrats point to the fact that [Hillary] Clinton won the popular vote…. Still, many agree that Democrats need to focus on an economic message that appeals more broadly to voters who don’t feel the economy is working for them. And to deliver that message, Democrats need to show up in middle America, observers say. Clinton’s last visit to Wisconsin was in April, and Donald Trump’s visit to the Minneapolis-St. Paul airport on the weekend before the election was scoffed at.

“That great mass in the middle of the country really ought to be most responsive to the message of the Democratic Party,” said Rep. Adam Schiff (D) of California at a recent Monitor breakfast. “We’re going to have to win them back.”

But fellow Democratic leaders are not enthusiastic about members of their party being considered for positions in the president-elect’s cabinet.

“I certainly hope they stay with us,” Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin told CNN earlier this week. “We need them. America needs them. Although they are qualified to be Cabinet officials, I would not recommend it to them.”

Sen. Ben Cardin of Maryland agreed.

“That would be very difficult for us,” Cardin told CNN of losing either Manchin or Heitkamp to Trump’s cabinet. “It’s a mixed message for us. Clearly they are great members but (losing them) would present additional challenges….”

One of these not-so-insignificant challenges is the slew of Democratic Senate seats up for election in 2018.

In two years, a number of Senate seats currently held by Democrats in states that turned red for president-elect Trump – such as Michigan, Florida, Wisconsin, Ohio, and Pennsylvania – will be up for election. And this fact is hardly an afterthought to Republicans, Senator Durbin told CNN.

Manchin and Heitkamp are Democratic senators in typically solidly-red states. Opening up Senate races in these states without their popular Democratic incumbents could result in two more Republican Senators in 2018.

“I think it’s a pretty shrewd move,” added Sen. Durbin. “I imagine Sen. McConnell has a hand in this strategy, which is to remove candidates who are odds-on favorites in red states…. part of the strategy is for the Republicans to pick up a few more seats in the Senate.”

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