Cabinet Countdown

Who will make it into Biden’s cabinet by March 1?

It’s a great question, not least because literally no one else cares except for PredictIt traders. Joe will get his Cabinet (except for maybe Neera!) at some point, and Hill reporters are understandably focused on the American Rescue Plan (I shared my research process for the related minimum wage market in the previous post). No one seems to really care what happens next week on the Senate floor. Will Ted Cruz lift his hold on Raimondo or will Schumer invoke cloture on her? Will Cardona be given a higher priority after the WH Press Secretary expressed the administration’s hope that he’d be confirmed this week? What about Granholm given that “energy” is vaguely part of the conversation post-Texas disaster?

With almost no reporting, it’s virtually a complete guessing game and I’m on the sidelines in almost all markets. Nonetheless, here’s what I think I know:

Vilsack will be confirmed

The USDA nominee has widespread bipartisan support (he made it out of committee via voice vote and had a “friendly hearing”). His confirmation vote is TBD Tuesday, and the market expects him to earn north of 85 votes (I don’t disagree). There’s been some discussion on twitter of late as to how to play these vote count markets – the way I do it is to use a spreadsheet where I can check off the votes as they’re announced for each senator. It’s useful for knowing who has and hasn’t voted along with keeping an actual count. Beyond that, the usual “NO” suspects are Hawley, Cruz, Cotton, etc. Worth pointing out that some of the frequent-ish NOs like Braun are on the Ag committee and seemed favorable. (Although also note that Tuberville and Marshall were not on the committee yet when his hearing took place and were not present during the voice vote). Finally, this is a Tuesday vote, which means we should have a pretty good sense of who is present or not based on the Monday vote(s) on Linda Thomas-Greenfield for UN Ambassador. Party lunches are on Tuesday so it tends to be a higher-attendance day anyway.

Linda Thomas-Greenfield will be confirmed

She faces the vote to invoke cloture on Monday at 5:30 pm, which will succeed. Technically she is going to take two positions, though I suspect the votes will be combined as they were for Nikki Haley. After cloture is invoked post-cloture time begins which can last as long as two hours (she is not a Level 1 pay schedule nominee, therefore she is not subject to 30 hours of post-cloture time). So her confirmation vote could come as soon as Monday night, or might wait until Tuesday morning or early afternoon (I expect them to wait because since when does the Senate act in an expeditious manner?). Nonetheless, her cloture vote will give a fairly strong indication of which way things are going, but make sure you note who is absent and who isn’t if the final vote indeed does take place the following day. As for the number of votes? Well she faced some opposition over some speech she gave at a China-funded think tank that Republicans don’t like so it’s not going to be a 96-4 vote like it was for Nikki. So the “muh China” caucus will probably be NO – Cruz/Cotton/Hawley through Scott/Scott and maybe even Ernst. She got four NOs in committee: Rubio, Barrasso, Cruz, Hagerty, but did earn AYEs from RonJohn and Rand Paul.

The rest of the week: ???????

The big open question is who the Senate moves to confirm next after Vilsack and LTG are handled. Will Schumer invoke cloture on Raimondo on Tuesday, setting her up for a confirmation vote as early as Thursday night? Will he go for more easily confirmable nominees that don’t require cloture? Will he advance more than one in a day? He has provided precious little guidance, except for a generic Dear Colleagues letter that suggests he wants to confirm…. everyone who is on the executive calendar. Cool, Chuck. Thanks.

Nonetheless, we can sort of plan around things. We know that after LTG and Vilsack are confirmed, we’ll be at 9 confirmed cabinet members, which will kill off the 7-8 bracket in the “Number of confirmed Cabinet positions” market. That market currently expects another two-three to make it by the end of the day on March 1 (swearing-in does not matter for this market, only the vote) which seems about right? If Chuck announces Raimondo cloture and no other intervening nominees then I think you’ll see 9-10 get some love (there’s a rumor going around in Rhode Island that the Lieutenant Governor will be sworn in next Sunday). OTOH if he goes hard in the paint and gets UC to advance on like five positions in a single day things will get spicy… but this seems like a reach.

We also don’t know how long the Senate plans to be in town. I expect that they’ll all be full jet-fumes mode on Thursday, but it’s not out of the question that they stick around to finish up some business Friday morning either. There’s really not much for them to do on the floor this week other than nominees, which maybe facilitates some deal-making so they can get home early? Particularly with CPAC that weekend? Pure speculation.

Hawley votes

We have a funny market on how many of Biden’s cabinet members Hawley will vote NO on. Will he go for the full Gillibrand and vote NO on all 23 of them? Apparently he’ll be at CPAC, so in principle he might miss a vote or two on Thurs/Friday (I’m somewhat skeptical) and there’s also some pumping that he could be AYE on Vilsack. Though this somewhat generic interview suggests he’ll be NO to me:

So that market could see some action next week, who knows. You’ve even got people in there convinced that there will be two OMB votes (if Tanden doesn’t have the votes, she’ll be pulled, folks). This is also one where it might be helpful for people to do some research. For example, did you know that not once in its entire history (as far as I can tell – I went back to the ’80s but couldn’t find the votes for the first two directors) has the OSTP Director been confirmed by anything other than a voice vote? Yes, even Trump’s OSTP Director was confirmed via voice vote. This was also true until recently for SBA Administrator and CEA Chair (Kevin Hassett was, I believe, the first to face an actual roll-call vote for that job – he advanced from committee via voice vote with only Warren opposed; Rouse advanced from committee via roll-call vote 24-0). Of course, OSTP wasn’t made “Cabinet-level” before so perhaps Hawley will want to keep his streak up and force a roll-call vote on Eric Lander? (Lander has only ever gotten in hot water in scientific circles for things that would upset the left, not the right – like when he gave a toast to Jim Watson or tried to downplay Doudna/Charpentier on their CRISPR contributions. He’s also been critical of Chinese research efforts to employ CRISPR in humans, and his appointment letter from President Biden stresses the need for him to develop technologies to compete with China). Anyway if you couldn’t tell I have taken a NO position on 23 or more and some YES in the brackets lower than that. We’ll see what happens. [One final note here: Hawley is on the Small Business Committee and asked generally polite if politically-tinged questions of nominee Isabel Guzman about Planned Parenthood and PPP loans, Guzman comes up for a vote before the committee on Wednesday at 2:30 PM. If Hawley is AYE or it passes via voice vote, watch out].

So what to bet on?

Well, I don’t gamble. If news breaks, it breaks, and if I’m lucky I’ll be there to react to it. Otherwise, I plan to just make sure I’m always listening when Chuck heads to the floor to tee up Senate business and that I have the Executive Calendar handy so that I’m ready to pounce as soon as I hear the number of the nomination called up. This is the last hurrah of the major money events of early 2021, so good luck and may we all feast!

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