Democrats are worried that if Trump adds two Democrats to his Cabinet -- potentially North Dakota Sen. Heidi Heitkamp and West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin -- the balance of power in the chamber could tilt further to the GOP. So they are making the case to their colleagues to stay put.
"I certainly hope they stay with us," Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin, the No. 2 Senate Democrat, told CNN on Monday. "We need them. America needs them. Although they are qualified to be Cabinet officials, I would not recommend it to them."
At a private caucus meeting last Thursday, incoming Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer told his colleagues that he didn't have any issues with them having private conversations with Trump. But in the wake of news that Heitkamp planned to meet with Trump the next day, he urged them to keep him and his caucus informed of any commitments they planned to make with the new president.
"Sen. Schumer has told his colleagues there is nothing wrong with an open dialogue with the incoming administration," said Schumer spokesman Matt House. "We hope they'll keep the caucus informed of those discussions."
The discussion comes at an urgent time for Democrats. After a disappointing election cycle where they failed to regain the Senate majority, the party will likely only have 48 seats in the new Congress. And in the 2018 election cycle, Democrats face a daunting map, with the battle for control of the chamber running squarely through a spate of red states that Trump won overwhelmingly.
If Manchin and Heitkamp were to leave for the Trump administration, the GOP would have a clear shot to pick up the open seats in 2018. In West Virginia, the Democratic governor, Earl Ray Tomblin, would fill the open seat until the next election in the red state. And in North Dakota, a special election would occur within 95 days of the vacancy, giving the GOP an immediate chance to grow their numbers in the first year under Trump.
Manchin would not rule out taking a job with Trump, telling CNN, "We have not talked specifics at all."
Asked if he were concerned about giving the GOP a chance to pick up his seat, Manchin pushed back.
"The people of West Virginia sent me here," Manchin said Monday. "I got to do what I can to make sure I'm helping my people."
Since her Friday meeting, Heitkamp said she has had followup conversations with Trump's incoming chief of staff, Reince Priebus. But Heitkamp declined to comment further Monday.
"We've had follow-on conversations; there's really nothing to say beyond that," Heitkamp said.
It's unclear how serious Trump is taking the possibility of naming Manchin and Heitkamp to his Cabinet, but speculation has centered around the Democrats possibly being up for energy-related Cabinet jobs in the administration. Heitkamp met with Trump last Friday in Trump Tower, while Manchin plans to meet with the President-elect later this week after speaking by the phone with him last week.
"I always believed public officials must put their state and country first and set aside partisan politics to do what's right for the people they serve," Manchin said in a statement.
Durbin added that the move appears motivated by Senate Republican leaders, including Mitch McConnell, to add to their numbers in the chamber.
"I think it's a pretty shrewd move," Durbin said Monday. "I imagine Sen. McConnell has a hand in this strategy, which is to remove candidates who are odds-on favorites in red states. ... I think part of the strategy is for the Republicans to pick up a few more seats in the Senate."
Sen. Ben Cardin of Maryland said that the Trump move to court his colleagues puts Democrats in an awkward position since they believe Manchin and Heitkamp would ultimately be a moderating force for the incoming administration.
"That would be very difficult for us," Cardin said of losing either of the two senators to the Trump administration. "It's a mixed message for us. Clearly they are great members but (losing them) would present additional challenges, which is probably one of the reasons why the President-elect is looking at these particular members."