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Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Republicans' likely hold on the Senate is forcing Joe Biden's transition team to consider limiting its prospective Cabinet nominees to those who Mitch McConnell can live with, according to people familiar with the matter.

Why it matters: The new Senate political math could dash the ambitions of some Democrats, including those who have clashed with Republicans.

  • It could push Biden to go with more centrist options, like Lael Brainard for Treasury or Tony Blinken for State, sources tell Axios.
  • Susan Rice and Stacey Abrams could be early casualties, depending on McConnell's posture.
  • But it could also open paths for others, like Sen. Chris Coons, who could benefit from a tradition of senatorial courtesy for quick confirmations of nominees within its ranks.

A source close to McConnell tells Axios a Republican Senate would work with Biden on centrist nominees but no "radical progressives" or ones who are controversial with conservatives.

  • The Biden agenda would be severely restricted by GOP control, the source added: "It's going to be armed camps."

The state of play: The process is in its early stages as Biden officials await final numbers on the size of the majority, and any potential signals from McConnell about whether he'll fight every nominee or focus on one or two examples.

  • Traditionally, an incoming president is given wide berth to pick his desired team.

The big picture: This political reality could result in Biden having a more centrist Cabinet.

  • It also gives Biden a ready excuse to reject left-of-center candidates, like Sens. Elizabeth Warren or Bernie Sanders, who have the enthusiastic backing of progressives.
  • Biden had already been considering an informal ban on nominating Democratic senators to avoid uncertainty about who would fill their seats.

Between the lines: Rice, who was Barack Obama's former UN ambassador and national security adviser, has long been considered in the running for secretary of state or another Cabinet position.

  • But she clashed with Republicans and became a lightning rod while defending the administration's response to the 2012 attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi.
  • Biden vetted Rice for vice president, and she was projected as a top pick for State after being passed over for Kamala Harris.
  • “For those interested in facts, Ambassador Rice has twice been unanimously confirmed by the Senate,” said Erin Pelton, a Rice spokesperson, referring to two confirmations before the Benghazi controversy.

What we're hearing: Abrams, the former Georgia House minority leader, also faces a tough time being confirmed by a Republican Senate.

  • Sally Yates, who is under consideration for Attorney General, could face resistance because of her role in the Justice Department's investigation into Trump's national security adviser Michael Flynn.
  • In August, Yates defended her role before Congress and accused Flynn of "neutering" American sanctions on Russia.

Be smart: Biden may end up leaning more on Democratic senators in blue states, or ex-senators.

  • That could boost Coons' case for State. And Alabama Sen. Doug Jones, who lost on Tuesday, may have an easier time than Yates at Justice.
  • If Biden appoints Coons to State, Democrats wouldn't be down a seat in the Senate, as Delaware’s Democratic governor John Carney could quickly appoint Rep. Lisa Blunt Rochester to the seat. That would ensure Senate Democrats have at least one Black woman in their ranks.
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Go deeper

Updated Mar 24, 2021 - Politics & Policy

Biden Cabinet tracker: Which nominees have been confirmed

Joe Biden and Kamala Harris on Jan. 16 in Wilmington, Delaware. Photo: Angela Weiss/AFP via Getty Images

All of President Biden's Cabinet nominees have now been confirmed by the U.S. Senate.

The big picture: Biden now has known, trusted people around him, many from the Obama administration, to help implement his policies and turn away from the tumultuous Trump years.

Updated 1 hour ago - Energy & Environment

Thousands without power as "hazardous" winter storm lashes East Coast

Satellite imagery of the Northeastern U.S. taken by NOAA on Jan. 17. Photo: NOAA

A major winter storm lashed much of the East Coast Sunday and Monday, causing widespread power outages and disrupting travel over the holiday weekend.

The latest: Authorities in North Carolina confirmed that two people died in a car crash and that they responded 600 vehicle accidents during the storm on Sunday, per the Washington Post.

2 hours ago - Health

CDC director says COVID-19 messaging should have been clearer

Rochelle Walensky. Photo: Stefani Reynolds-Pool/Getty Images

Rochelle Walensky, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said in an interview with the Wall Street Journal that the messaging around the COVID-19 pandemic and changing guidance should have been clearer.

State of play: Walensky is being coached by media experts and is planning to have more press briefings by herself in order to ensure that CDC is seen as an independent, scientific entity, rather than as a political one, the Journal reports.

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