Senate Republicans Are Now in the Mix for Top Posts in a Trump Presidency


After Donald J. Trump was elected president in 2016, he reached into the Senate for just one high-level member of his administration, picking Jeff Sessions of Alabama as attorney general and rewarding the first senator to endorse him when many other Republicans had kept the candidate at arm’s length.

The list of eager Senate applicants for a job in a second Trump administration could be much longer if Mr. Trump triumphs this year. Unlike in 2016, when many Senate Republicans considered Mr. Trump an unknown quantity, nearly all of them are fully on board and might jump at the chance for an administration gig — even if they just got to the Senate.

At least two Senate Republicans — J.D. Vance of Ohio and Marco Rubio of Florida — are on the short list for the vice president slot, with Senator Tim Scott of South Carolina also having been vetted. Other G.O.P. senators are being talked about for top posts in a Trump White House. It is a distinct change from 2016 when Mr. Trump and his advisers looked to the House, where Trump fervor ran much deeper, for political appointees.

“The Republican Conference right now from top to bottom is currently an all-star team,” said Senator John Barrasso of Wyoming, the No. 3 Republican. “These folks are smart, and they are aggressive legislatively. I think it would be natural for President Trump to tap into all of this talent.”

The Senate has long been a spot for presidents to turn to when looking to assemble a governing team, with advantages for both a White House that gains Washington know-how and connections and senators looking for a different way to make an impact or just a dignified exit from Congress and its myriad frustrations.

According to the Senate Historical Office, more than 40 senators have resigned their seats for Cabinet posts, with the first being Samuel Dexter of Massachusetts, who was appointed secretary of war by President John Adams in 1800. The State Department has been the most popular stop, followed by the Treasury, Justice and Interior Departments.

The election of Barack Obama in 2008 brought several Senate vacancies, including Mr. Obama’s seat in Illinois, Joseph R. Biden Jr.’s seat in Delaware with his election as vice president, Hillary Clinton’s seat in New York after her confirmation as secretary of state and Ken Salazar’s seat in Colorado with his appointment as interior secretary.

Senator John Kerry followed them out the door after his confirmation to replace Ms. Clinton at the State Department in 2013.

“Only three decades after the people of Massachusetts first voted me into office, the people I work with in the Senate voted me out of it,” Mr. Kerry joked in his farewell after the Senate overwhelmingly approved his nomination.

But in 2017, Mr. Trump turned to the House rather than the Senate for his inner circle. Representative Tom Price of Georgia was tapped for health secretary, Representative Ryan Zinke of Montana for Interior and Representative Mike Pompeo of Kansas for C.I.A. director and later secretary of state.

In addition, Mr. Trump’s vice president, Mike Pence of Indiana, had a House background before he left to become governor of Indiana. Mr. Trump also came to rue his selection of Mr. Sessions, who recused himself from a Justice Department investigation into Russia ties to the Trump team, infuriating the president.

Now, while some House members such as Representative Elise Stefanik of New York, the No. 4 House Republican, are talked about as future Trump administration picks, the Senate is getting much more attention than it did in Mr. Trump’s first go-round.

Some of those being discussed as Trump appointees just arrived in Washington and had barely set up their offices before talking about leaving. It’s a switch, considering that Mr. Obama was considered dismissively by some of his colleagues to be a “drive-by” senator because he ran for the presidency after only four years in the Senate.

Besides Mr. Vance, other recently elected Republicans who have come up in discussions about joining a Trump administration include Senators Bill Hagerty of Tennessee, who was elected in 2020 after serving as Mr. Trump’s ambassador to Japan, and Eric Schmitt of Missouri, elected in 2022 after a stint as state attorney general. Mr. Schmitt recently took part in a small Washington meeting with Mr. Trump to discuss policy issues in advance of Mr. Trump’s debate with President Biden.

Mr. Vance has been perhaps the most open about his interest in being named Trump’s vice-presidential nominee despite taking his Senate oath less than two years ago, giving him little time to build a record. Though he would gladly run for vice president, he still says his goal isn’t to make for the exits after such a short tenure.

“I like being a senator,” Mr. Vance said recently on CBS’s “Face the Nation.” “I’m not trying to leave the United States Senate. It’s an honor to serve the people of Ohio. And, frankly, if you ask me, that’s where I expect to be in six months; that’s where I expect to be in a few years.”

Even if Mr. Rubio is not tapped as vice president, he would be expected to be a strong candidate for a Cabinet post given his Senate experience in foreign policy and intelligence over three terms — though he did run against Mr. Trump for the Republican presidential nomination in 2016.

Also high on the list of Republican senators seen as future administration officials is Senator Tom Cotton of Arkansas, an Army combat veteran with a hawkish bent. Mr. Cotton, elected in 2014, is running to join the Senate Republican leadership but could prefer a Cabinet post as a quicker route to influence rather than enduring the slog rising to power in the Senate can entail.

While poaching from the Senate could result in some personnel changes and unanticipated campaigns, the senators being eyed all represent red states that are highly unlikely to provide opportunities for Democratic pickups.

Anyone who is asked would certainly have to give it serious thought, Mr. Barrasso acknowledged.

“If the president of the United States and duty calls,” he said, “any senator would have to consider it.”

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