When rumors circulated, briefly, late last week that Kelly Ayotte was on a short list to be Defense Secretary, it was like a cruel tease to New England. The rumor was shot down quickly, with ABC News reporting that Donald Trump “has zero interest in having her in the Cabinet or anywhere else.”
Republican Ayotte, who had just lost her re-election bid as U.S. Senator from New Hampshire, was an unlikely choice for Trump’s administration: he is notoriously reluctant to relinquish grudges, and Ayotte had publicly disavowed him on the campaign trail.
And yet, among New England’s current or incoming lawmakers, Ayotte is just about the closest chance the region has to a potential in with the new administration. The only remaining Republican Senator in the area is Susan Collins of Maine—who opposed Trump throughout the campaign, and seems almost temperamentally antithetical to the President-elect. Bruce Poliquin, also of Maine, survived Tuesday’s vote and will be the only New England Republican in the House; but he too distanced himself from Trump, refusing to endorse or defend his party’s Presidential candidate. Besides, as a second-term back-bencher, Poliquin’s name is probably unfamiliar to anybody coming to the West Wing.
New England will now have four Republican governors—but their relationships with the Trump team are a mixed bag.
Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker, the most visible Republican office-holder in the region, can’t be expecting much access to the new administration. Baker publicly denounced Trump early and often, and proclaimed his intent to vote for nobody for President.
Baker’s one access point, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, looks like it won’t get him very far; Christie appears to be on the outs with Trump, perhaps due to the conviction of his former top aides in the BridgeGate scandal. Baker endorsed Christie for President, after Christie spent millions as chair of the Republican Governors Association helping elect Baker in 2014. Christie was heading the Trump transition team, but has now been sidelined from that role.
Vermont’s Republican Governor-elect, Phil Scott, will also start at a disadvantage: he, too, said he could not vote for Trump, declaring the businessman unfit for the office.
But, all is not lost for New England.
New Hampshire’s new Governor, Chris Sununu, supported Trump in the general election. So did his father, former Governor John Sununu—who crudely joked about the Clintons when introducing Trump at his election-eve rally in Manchester.
But the region’s best relationship with the incoming administration is also with its most controversial officeholder: Governor Paul LePage of Maine.
LePage backed Trump early and forcefully—one of the first significant elected officials to do so.
The problem, from the perspective of helping Maine or the region, is that LePage is a fierce opponent of most federal spending, and may be more likely to use his influence to shut off spigots, rather than open them. LePage’s clashes with the Obama administration are probably instructive: he has resisted Medicaid expansion, and sought restrictions on who can receive Social Security and other welfare benefits.
An exception might come in the area of defense spending—a particular concern in Maine, home to the Bath Iron Works shipyard. Trump’s campaign promise to modernize and expand the military could, with LePage as the state’s advocate, bring new spending and jobs to Maine.
It’s also possible, though, that Trump could reward LePage with a job in Washington. If so, it’s unclear whether that would give Maine an ally in Washington, or if LePage would leave the state behind without looking back.
New England’s Democrats, like those everywhere in the country, are still trying to process the stunning results of last Tuesday’s election. The party made some gains in the area, electing Maggie Hassan and Carol Shea-Porter as New Hampshire Senator and Representative, respectively.
But with Trump entering the White House, and Republicans maintaining their majorities in both the House and Senate, New England—whose members will comprise 10% of the U.S. House Democratic caucus, and more than 20% of Democratic Senators—has been relegated to the role of resistors.
The national fallout will sap the region’s Democrats of their already waning influence in Washington—and, because of the party’s dominance in the region, leave New England increasingly adrift.
That could affect citizens in any number of ways, depending on which policies expressed during the campaign Trump and Congressional Republicans choose to pursue.
That could range from a withering of the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP); to shutting off of federal funds for so-called “sanctuary cities,” including Somerville and Providence, that refuse to turn over undocumented residents to federal immigration officials.
Aside from such policy impacts, the new political reality could lead to some shake-ups, as politicians and staff re-think their future.
Boston’s Stephen Lynch, for example, was rumored to be coveting a position in Hillary Clinton’s administration. Instead, facing more years in the House minority, he might start looking for new employment opportunities.
So might Michael Capuano, whose chances of ever seeing his friend Nancy Pelosi regain the Speakership may have ended Tuesday.
Don’t count on anything yet, though. When Democrats return to Washington this week and begin plotting their way forward, they might start to get a renewed sense of purpose.
The initial reactions from local members of Congress varied, but largely suggested a dazed group tentatively grappling in the dark.
Some were reserved in tone. Joe Kennedy, while acknowledging “disappointment and uncertainty” in an official statement, congratulated Trump and focused on community pride in the election process.
Capuano wrote to constituents: “I think there will be difficult days ahead but I will try as hard as I can to work with the new President and his majorities in both the House and the Senate (and soon, the Supreme Court).”
Others were more biting. Seth Moulton released a statement calling the election result “one of the most disillusioning of our lives.”
For New England’s political influence, he might have that right.