Just the Facts

Five Facts on Bipartisan Presidential Appointments

By Emma Petasis
February 4, 2019 | Blog

Throughout America’s history, presidents have often looked to members of the opposite political party to serve in their administration.  Their motives have varied, with some presidents looking to unite the country in trying times, while others have simply picked the most qualified person, regardless of party affiliation.  Here are five facts on bipartisan presidential appointments.

George Washington appointed political rival Thomas Jefferson as America’s first Secretary of State

Following his election as the first president of the United States in 1789 George Washington immediately set out to assemble his cabinet. Washington was bombarded with requests for positions in the government from family, friends, and total strangers alike; however, he was resolute in his conviction that his “political conduct in nominations must be exceedingly circumspect and proof against … criticism.” In short, he wanted the most qualified people to help him run the new nation. It is for this reason that despite their political differences President Washington chose Thomas Jefferson, a leading member of the opposing political party, as his secretary of State.  Jefferson had been one of America’s key diplomats during the Revolutionary War, working closely with important allies such as France, and was undoubtedly one of the most qualified men for the job.

In 1864 Republican President Abraham Lincoln chose Democratic Sen. Andrew Johnson as his running mate in an attempt to unite the country in the midst of the Civil War

In an attempt to unite the country toward the end of the Civil War, President Abraham Lincoln, a Republican from Illinois, a state that had remained in the Union, chose Andrew Johnson, a Democrat from Tennessee, which had seceded in 1861, as his running mate for the election of 1864. In choosing Johnson, Lincoln hoped to broaden his base of support in the Union, where he was facing a challenge from his former Gen. George McClellan, while showing the South that he was still willing to work with people who opposed many of his views.

Democratic President Franklin Delano Roosevelt appointed several Republicans to lead America’s military during World War II

Throughout World War II several of the war effort’s most important governmental positions were held by Republicans. Secretary of War Henry Stimson, Secretary of the Navy Frank Knox, and Ambassador to Britain John Gilbert Winant were all Republicans who were appointed by Democratic President Franklin Roosevelt. In 1940, with Nazi Germany on the rise in Europe, President Roosevelt hoped that “bipartisan cooperation would rally more Americans to the anti-fascist cause.” Roosevelt’s appointees also understood the magnitude of the moment and realized that they had an opportunity to serve their country in a time of crisis, thus, according to The New York Times, both parties were able to show that they were “able to transcend everyday politics.”

George W. Bush and Barack Obama both relied heavily on members of the opposite party when constructing their administrations

Throughout his tenure George W. Bush appointed 15 members of the opposite party to serve in his administration.  Prominent Democratic members of his administration included Tom Schieffer, who served as the U.S. ambassador to both Australia and Japan, Norman Mineta, who served as secretary of Transportation, and Pete Green, who worked as secretary of the Army. Similarly, Barack Obama appointed 17 Republicans to work in his administration, including Robert Gates and Chuck Hagel, two of the president’s four secretaries of Defense.  In addition, President Obama filled other prominent roles with members of the opposite party, such as Jon Huntsman Jr. as the ambassador to China and Ben Bernanke as the chairman of the Federal Reserve.

Over the past few months several prominent politicians have been mentioned as part of a potential bipartisan ticket

A recent column suggested a bipartisan ticket in 2020 featuring former Vice President Joe Biden and Ohio Gov. John Kasich. Both Biden and Kasich are leaders who have gained reputations for working across the aisle throughout their decades of public service.  However, this is not the first time that Gov. Kasich has been mentioned as part of a bipartisan presidential ticket.  He has also been connected with Colorado’s Democratic Gov. John Hickenlooper, with whom he has worked closely on issues such as health care.  The two have developed a strong relationship that garnered heightened attention after Kasich tweeted “I see my friend @HickForCO is headed to Iowa. They say no one goes there by accident … .”

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