I spoke too quickly this weekend when I sang the praises of Judd Gregg for demanding what I thought would be a long-shot arrangement in exchange for accepting Barack Obama’s appointment as Commerce Secretary. Gregg has accepted the position after apparently ensuring that his former protege will replace him in the Senate:
A White House official says President Barack Obama plans to nominate Sen. Judd Gregg, a New Hampshire Republican, as his commerce secretary Tuesday, filling the last remaining spot on his senior roster two weeks after he was sworn into office.
If confirmed by the Senate, Gregg would fill out an administration team tasked with steering the nation out of a recession now in its second year. He also would become the third Republican in Obama’s Cabinet, joining Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood. …
The president finally settled on 61-year-old Gregg, a former New Hampshire governor who previously served in the House. Gregg has been in the Senate since 1993 and currently serves as the top Republican on the Senate Budget Committee.
New Hampshire Governor John Lynch, a Democrat, will appoint Gregg’s successor. A Democratic replacement would give Harry Reid a filibuster-proof majority in the Senate, unless Norm Coleman manages to win his election contest here in Minnesota. Gregg did say that he would not leave the Senate unless he had assurances that the balance of power would not change, and sources close to Lynch say that he will probably appoint Bonnie Newman, Gregg’s former chief of staff during the 1980s. Newman also served in the Reagan administration, but is seen as somewhat more of a moderate than the fiscally-conservative Gregg. She supported Lynch’s run for Governor, which makes her appointment much more palatable to the governor, and allows him to burnish his own bipartisan credibility in a state famous for its political independence.
Neverthless, this is still a net loss for Republicans and fiscal conservatives. Gregg would probably have won re-election in 2010, especially if this stimulus bill performs as badly as most economists expect. Instead, Democrats will probably get an easy pickup, unless a high-profile Republican starts working immediately on a campaign. Newman reportedly will agree not to seek election as a condition of her appointment.
Obama wants Gregg to help put bipartisan gloss on his economic initiatives, but other than trade policy, Gregg won’t be in position to have much influence. He might have had more influence on policy as ranking member on the Senate Finance Committee, although it’s arguable as to whether any Republican in either chamber of Congress will have much power to influence any policy in the next two years. Even Gregg understands the limit of his power to moderate Obama, as he once voted to eliminate the Commerce Department altogether as unnecessary. His decision to head the department instead is most disappointing.