Obama Appears Set to Appoint Republican Sen. Gregg as Commerce Secretary

Sen. Judd Gregg would be the Obama Cabinet's third Republican.
Sen. Judd Gregg would be the Obama Cabinet's third Republican. (Lauren Victoria Burke - AP)
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By Anne E. Kornblut
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, February 1, 2009

President Obama appears set to nominate Republican Sen. Judd Gregg as commerce secretary, a move that could happen in the next day or two, Democratic officials said yesterday.

Gregg (N.H.) acknowledged Friday that he was under consideration. But administration officials took it a step further yesterday, saying he is atop the list to fill the job, and other officials said they thought he was all but certain to be tapped. His nomination and confirmation would give a leading economic role in the Obama Cabinet to a fiscal conservative, while bolstering the president's argument that he has built a truly bipartisan administration.

Two other Republicans -- Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, a former Illinois congressman, and Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates, a holdover from the Bush administration -- are already in place in Obama's Cabinet.

Republican officials said they are resigned to Gregg's departure from a critical Senate seat that Democrats had already intended to challenge.

New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson (D) was nominated Dec. 3 to head the Commerce Department, but he withdrew his name from consideration a month later because of a federal investigation involving state government contracts.

Gregg's nomination would also offer the White House the chance that New Hampshire Gov. John Lynch (D) would appoint a Democrat to serve the two remaining years of the senator's term. That, combined with the seating of Al Franken if he prevails in the disputed Minnesota election, would give Obama the 60-vote majority he needs for a filibuster-proof Senate.

It is likely that New Hampshire's two representatives in the House, Democrats Paul W. Hodes and Carol Shea-Porter, would at least be considered for such an appointment. Potential Republican candidates for the seat would include J. Bonnie Newman, a former president of the University of New Hampshire; Doug Scamman, the former state House speaker; former governor Walter R. Petersen Jr.; and former attorney general Thomas D. Rath.

Gregg is a Republican Party stalwart who has firmly opposed abortion rights even as his state has grown increasingly moderate in recent years. His strong support of the business community and his standing among fiscal conservatives in Congress could help Obama persuade Republicans to join him on initiatives regarding government entitlements and the federal budget.

Gregg, a three-term senator, is a former chairman of the Senate Budget Committee, and he helped devise the $700 billion bank rescue package that passed last year. White House press secretary Robert Gibbs said Friday that Gregg is "somebody that the president has talked to recently about the economic crisis."

"I know they spoke before the president was sworn in, on a couple of occasions, about financial stability and the recovery plan. Obviously, the president shares his concern about the growing federal budget deficit. So . . . it's somebody the president talks to on a host of economic matters," Gibbs said. He said it would be "accurate" to say that Obama likes working with Gregg.

Gregg, 61, has a familiar political name in the New Hampshire: He and his father, Hugh, both served as governor. Judd Gregg, a wry, low-key figure, won more than $850,000 in 2005 after buying $20 worth of Powerball tickets at a D.C. convenience store.

Staff writers Chris Cillizza and Shailagh Murray contributed to this report.

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