Obama Considers GOP's Gregg to Head Commerce

President Barack Obama signed several executive orders, got an enormous economic stimulus bill through Congress and outlined a plan for troop reduction in Iraq, as he shapes his agenda for the first 100 days in office.
By Philip Rucker
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, January 31, 2009

Republican Sen. Judd Gregg (N.H.) emerged yesterday as a serious contender to fill the remaining post in President Obama's Cabinet, saying he is under consideration by the White House to become commerce secretary, which opens the possibility of a filibuster-proof Democratic majority in the Senate.

The longtime senator is among several leading candidates for the job, which opened earlier this month after New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson (D) withdrew as Obama's nominee. White House press secretary Robert Gibbs said no decision has been made, but he added that Obama hopes to nominate someone shortly.

"I am aware that my name is one of those being considered by the White House for secretary of Commerce, and am honored to be considered, along with others, for the position," Gregg said in a statement released by his office yesterday. "Beyond that there is nothing more I can say at this time."

Gregg, 61, could be an appealing choice for Obama, who has said he wants to bring Republicans into his administration. If Gregg left the Senate, his seat would be filled by New Hampshire's Democratic governor, John Lynch. If Lynch tapped a Democrat for the seat -- and if Democrat Al Franken wins the still-undecided Minnesota race -- the majority party would have 60 seats, including the two independents who caucus with Democrats, which is enough to withstand Republican filibusters.

Some of Gregg's Republican colleagues yesterday expressed dismay at the possibility that he would leave Congress.

"He is a terrific senator. He would be a great commerce secretary, but we need him in the Senate," Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) said on a radio talk show in his home state, according to Reuters.

For Obama, the political calculus is complicated by the possibility that Lynch could replace Gregg with a Republican.

Lynch's spokesman, Colin Manning, declined to say whether the governor has discussed the situation with Gregg or White House officials. "This situation still remains in the hands of the White House and Senator Gregg," Manning said.

A respected fiscal guru in Congress, Gregg was one of the GOP's lead negotiators of the $700 billion Wall Street rescue plan. Obama enjoys working with Gregg, and the two recently discussed the economic recovery plan, Gibbs said, adding that the president shares Gregg's concern about the growing federal budget deficit.

Other contenders for the job include John W. Thompson, chief executive of Symantec Corp., a major Silicon Valley software firm.

Heir to a prominent New Hampshire political family, Gregg is trained as a lawyer and served in the House and as governor before entering the Senate in 1993.

Gregg's name came up in connection with the uproar over improper hiring practices at the Justice Department during the Bush administration.

Gregg helped secure an immigration judgeship for a former campaign treasurer who had less than six months of experience with immigration law and had previously been rejected as a tax court judge because he lacked qualifications.

Staff writers Dan Eggen and Shailagh Murray contributed to this report.

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