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Mitt Romney won’t end up in Biden’s Cabinet, but other Utahns might

(AP Photo/Andrew Harnik, Pool) President-elect Joe Biden, right, shares the stage with Vice President-elect Kamala Harris, left, Saturday, Nov. 7, 2020, in Wilmington, Del.

Some online chatter last month pegged Sen. Mitt Romney as a longshot pick for President-elect Joe Biden’s Cabinet, perhaps as secretary of state or commerce. This week, Romney quashed those rumors, saying he hadn’t been approached by Biden nor was he interested.

The idea that Romney might join the Biden administration was always a bit of a stretch. Does anybody remember the “back in chains” comment Biden made about Romney during the 2012 presidential race?

“While Romney is a significant and visible player in national politics, his history with Biden isn’t necessarily the most cordial,” said Utah State University political scientist Damon Cann.

“In spite of discussions about uniting the country, it would be highly unlikely for there to ultimately be more than one or two Republicans invited to serve in Biden’s Cabinet," he said. “There are dozens of Republicans with whom Biden served collegially who could be candidates. It’s not clear Romney would be a front-runner in that pack.”

If Democrats win both of the January runoff elections in Georgia, the Senate will be divided 50-50, with incoming Vice President Kamala Harris casting the deciding vote in the case of a tie. If Republicans win one or both of those votes, they will hold a slim majority.

In any scenario, Romney could become a more influential player, able to partner with moderates on both sides of the aisle to push compromise legislation.

“Any time that something is that closely divided, the opportunity to find commonality across the aisle is probably greater,” said Romney on a recent episode of the “Utah Politics” podcast.

As a senator who has shown an independent streak, Romney may be a major player on issues like the economic recovery and immigration.

“Romney is poised to be a pivotal senator,” Cann said.

So, Romney joining Biden’s team is out. But there are several other Utahns who could fill some of the thousands of open jobs that come with a new administration. In fact, a new presidential team has to identify candidates for about 4,000 positions in the federal government which are listed in what is commonly called the Plum Book.

Tops on the list is former Utah teacher Lily Eskelsen Garcia who is thought to be a leading candidate for education secretary. Eskelsen Garcia is the former president of the National Education Association, the nation’s largest teacher’s union.

Former Utah State Sen. Scott Howell, who is as wired-in to Biden world as any Utahn, said he would be shocked if Eskelsen Garcia did not end up in a Biden administration.

“There’s no doubt in my mind that there’s a role for her," he said. “Her skills are so incredible.”

When pressed, Howell rattles off a list of several prominent Utah Democrats who could find their way into a Biden administration, but he admits it’s more of a wishlist than any serious consideration.

“There are so many good people who have expertise in all sorts of positions,” Howell said.

There’s Chris Peterson, who lost the gubernatorial race to Spencer Cox. He previously worked at the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau under Elizabeth Warren.

“I believe in public service, so it would be an honor to even be considered for a position by President-elect Biden,” Peterson said. “Right now, I am also excited to return to teaching and research at my alma mater, the University of Utah.”

Howell also suggests former independent presidential candidate Evan McMullin’s experience working for the Central Intelligence Agency during the George W. Bush administration makes him an attractive candidate for a job with Biden.

If Rep. Ben McAdams can’t overcome his current deficit to Republican Burgess Owens in the 4th Congressional District, his experience as a member of Congress and Salt Lake County mayor may open up some opportunities for him after Biden takes office in January.

Other names bouncing around seem more like political wishcasting than serious considerations. Losing Democratic congressional candidates Devin Thorpe, Kael Weston and Darren Parry have been mentioned here and there, as has current House Minority Leader Rep. Brian King, D-Salt Lake City.

“News to me,” said King when reached for comment.

Howell said any appointments will come in due time, but the president-elect and his team have bigger problems to tackle as they get ready to take the reins of government.

“They are so focused on the coronavirus pandemic right now," he said, “they don’t have much time for anything else.”

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