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Tuesday, February 3, 2009

THE NEXT COMMERCE SECRETARY?

Gregg Wants a Republican To Replace Him in the Senate

President Obama will nominate Sen. Judd Gregg (R-N.H.) for commerce secretary on Tuesday, a White House official said Monday night, a move that would fill the last opening in Obama's Cabinet with a fiscal conservative.

Obama has lacked a nominee for the Commerce Department since New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson (D) withdrew his name from consideration last month, citing a federal investigation involving state government contracts.

Gregg appears willing to take the job, but he announced one condition Monday: His replacement in the Senate has to be a Republican.

"I have made it clear to the Senate leadership on both sides of the aisle and to the Governor that I would not leave the Senate if I felt my departure would cause a change in the makeup of the Senate," Gregg said in a statement Monday.

New Hampshire Gov. John Lynch (D), who will pick Gregg's replacement, is widely expected to appoint a Republican to succeed Gregg, someone who could be a caretaker in the seat until the next election, in 2010.

But Lynch has not officially said so, and he was noncommittal after Gregg's statement was released, saying only that he would "name a replacement who will put the people of New Hampshire first and represent New Hampshire effectively in the U.S. Senate."

Senate Republicans said they were somewhat mystified by Gregg's possible move. As the ranking GOP senator on the Budget Committee, Gregg could play a pivotal role in budget and entitlement reform, potentially the most challenging items on Obama's ambitious to-do list. If Gregg moves to Commerce, he will probably be replaced as the ranking Republican by Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.), one of the chamber's most conservative members.

White House press secretary Robert Gibbs declined to answer questions about Gregg at his daily briefing. "Obviously the president has great respect for Senator Gregg. I'm not going to get into personnel announcements before we are there," Gibbs said.

-- Anne E. Kornblut


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