Obama Goes With Republican Gregg for Commerce Post

The choice of Judd Gregg came on the condition that it won't change the balance of power in the Senate.


After weeks of speculation about who he would pick to fill the still-empty secretary of commerce seat in his cabinet, President Obama announced Republican Sen. Judd Gregg as his nominee at a press conference this morning.

Obama initially had picked Gov. Bill Richardson of New Mexico for the job, but Richardson, in the midst of a federal investigation, withdrew his name from consideration in early January.

"When the book is written about Judd Gregg, it will tell the story of a man with his own private record of service on behalf of the American people," Obama said today. "He's seen from all angles what makes our economy work."

Gregg, who hails from New Hampshire, is the ranking Republican on the Budget Committee and is a well-respected businessman. He's also gained a reputation for bipartisanship, including an effort with Democratic Sen. Kent Conrad of North Dakota to propose a bipartisan commission to try to fix the federal deficit. He also worked with the Obama team to try to get the second $350 billion installment of Troubled Asset Recovery Plan funds passed, a move the GOP resisted.

Gregg underscored that approach in his own remarks this morning. "This is not a time for partisanship. This is not a time when we should stand in our ideological corners and shout at each other," he said. "This is a time to govern, and govern well."

Critics caution, however, that if Gregg moves to the cabinet, his replacement on the Budget Committee would likely be the far more partisan and conservative Alabama Sen. Jeff Sessions. If Obama wants the Senate to be bipartisan, they say, he shouldn't drain that talent by taking Gregg for himself.

In his acceptance of the nomination, meanwhile, Gregg indicated one caveat: He'll leave the Senate only if his seat is left to another Republican. The governor of New Hampshire, despite being a Democrat himself, seems poised to do just that. Historically, governors have rarely picked someone from the other side of the aisle to fill a vacated seat. The last time one did, without state law demanding it, was in 1960.

The likelihood of a Republican filling the seat has disappointed Democrats, who currently have 58 seats in the Senate, along with a possible 59th, depending on the result of the disputed Minnesota race. If a Democrat fills Gregg's seat, they'd reach the magic, filibusterproof number of 60.

To some, meanwhile, the pick of a man who sharply criticized Obama during the campaign comes as a surprise, an issue that Obama addressed this morning.

"Clearly, Judd and I don't agree on every issue—most notably who should have won the election," the president said, wryly. "But we do agree on the urgent need to get American businesses and families back on their feet."