When a US President selects cabinet members and other appointees, they often get pulled from current members of Congress. If the person is particularly effective in Congress, then you have to debate whether it's better to leave them in their current seat or to assign them to the cabinet and leave their seat open for a new, less experienced congressperson, potentially from the other party if they're from a moderate district. Given that cabinet positions are limited to the President's max of two 4-year term, and congressional seats don't have term limits, you are essentially removing someone effective from Congress permanently. Yes, they are still definitely allowed to run again, but if someone from their same party has replaced them, it wouldn't look great to run against them in the primary to get the seat back.

Have there ever been cases of cabinet members going back to run for Congress again once their term is over? If so, how often does this happen?

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    While congressional seats may not have term limits, congressmen and women still have to run for re-election at the end of their terms. Even a historically popular or long-serving congressperson can lose in their primary or their general election if the current political zeitgeist is against them. So there is no such thing as 'removing someone [...] permanently'.
    – TylerH
    Commented Nov 20, 2020 at 14:19
  • I don't see how cabinet positions are tried to a certain president. The next one can (and often does) appoint the same cabinet member(s). Commented Nov 20, 2020 at 14:43
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    @MartinSchröder it's fairly common practice, as administrations tend to want people who align politically/ideologically with the administration/POTUS. Usually prior Secretaries will stay on until replacements has been vetted, which varies in time. Cabinet Secretaries and Asst/Undersecretaries tend to be in lockstep with their boss. As you move further down the chain of command you find more people who are career employees who may serve across many administrations.
    – TylerH
    Commented Nov 20, 2020 at 14:51
  • @TylerH You're right that congressional seats need to be re-elected, but you usually only see incumbents getting primaried out from another faction of the same party. If a cabinet member's seat was filled by someone from the same party who was doing a decent job, it would look bad for them to come back and say "Get out, I want my seat back."
    – David K
    Commented Nov 20, 2020 at 15:31
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    @DavidK Not longer than two terms, but two different presidents: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/… Commented Nov 20, 2020 at 16:23

1 Answer 1


Have there ever been cases of cabinet members going back to run for Congress again once their term is over?

Yes, Jeff Sessions.

In 1996, he was elected to the U.S. Senate, and was re-elected in 2002, 2008 and 2014.

He was confirmed and sworn in as Attorney General in February 2017.

Sessions ran in the 2020 Senate election in Alabama to reclaim his old seat, but lost in the Republican primary to Tommy Tuberville, who was supported by President Trump.

If so, how often does this happen?

At least once!

There have been 11,238 Representatives and 1,983 Senators, as shown in Historical List of Members of Congress.

Without a cursory search on each of these individuals, it is not possible to decide how often it happens. I can say that, prior to the passage of the Seventeenth Amendment (popular election of Senators), there were cases where individuals had moved from the Senate to Cabinet and back. Also to Ambassadorships, Governorships, etc.

From the Senate to the Cabinet

In the 19th century, when state legislatures were still electing senators, members took confidence in the possibility of returning with the next available Senate seat if they tired of their cabinet assignment. John Sherman of Ohio provides an example of that two-way street. In 1877, President Rutherford Hayes offered Sherman, who was chair of the Senate Finance Committee, the treasury department. After four years at treasury, Sherman decided to seek the Republican presidential nomination. He asked his former Ohio colleague, Representative James Garfield, to nominate him at the convention. Garfield gave a great speech. Unfortunately for Sherman, the eloquent Garfield won the nomination. Garfield went to the White House and Sherman returned to the Senate.

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