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Obama Nominates Judd Gregg, an Independent-Minded Conservative, to Lead Commerce

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Sen. Judd Gregg (R-N.H.), responds to his nomination for Commerce Secretary. If confirmed, he will be the third Republican in President Obama's cabinet. Video by CBSNEWS.com

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By Michael A. Fletcher
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, February 4, 2009

During a long political career that includes 16 years in the Senate, Judd Gregg has been known as a tough negotiator, a deficit hawk and an independent-minded conservative.

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Yesterday, President Obama nominated the New Hampshire Republican to be secretary of commerce, buttressing one other part of Gregg's reputation: a willingness to work across party lines.

"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," Gregg, 61, said after Obama announced his nomination at the White House. "This is a time to govern and govern well. And therefore when the president asked me to join his administration and participate in trying to address the issues of this time, I believed it was my obligation to say yes, and I look forward to it with enthusiasm."

If confirmed by the Senate, Gregg will join Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates and Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood as Republicans in the Cabinet. Obama has already reached out to three sitting senators for his Cabinet: Vice President Biden, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and Interior Secretary Ken Salazar.

"Judd is famous or infamous, depending on your perspective, on Capitol Hill for his strict fiscal discipline," Obama said. "It's not that he enjoys saying no -- although if it's directed at your bill, you might feel that way. It's that he shares my deep-seated commitment to guaranteeing that our children inherit a future they can afford."

In accepting the nomination, Gregg did not totally forgo partisan loyalty. He acknowledged that he had arranged to have New Hampshire Gov. John Lynch (D) appoint a Republican to fill Gregg's seat, preventing Democrats from moving closer to a filibuster-proof Senate majority. Lynch named J. Bonnie Newman, Gregg's former chief of staff, to succeed Gregg. She has agreed to serve only the final two years of his Senate term.

"I also want to thank the governor of New Hampshire for his courtesy and courage in being willing to make this possible through the agreement that we have, relative to my successor in the Senate," Gregg said.

His nomination came a month after New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson (D), Obama's original choice for the commerce post, withdrew his name from consideration, citing a grand jury investigation of state contracts awarded to an investment company that contributed to his political action committees.

As commerce secretary, Gregg would run an agency with a broad sweep of responsibilities, such as dealing with international trade disputes and administering the 2010 Census, as well as gathering a raft of economic data and running the National Weather Service. He also would be a leading conservative voice on Obama's economic team.

Gregg is expected to have particular influence when the president turns his attention to entitlement reform. The senator has often said that the government needs to deal with the spiraling cost of Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security -- something that Obama has said must be addressed if the nation is ever to return to sound fiscal footing.

"Now, clearly, Judd and I don't agree on every issue -- most notably, who should have won the election. But we do agree on the urgent need to get American businesses and families back on their feet," Obama said in announcing the nomination. "We see eye to eye on conducting the nation's business in a responsible, transparent and accountable manner. And we know the only way to solve the great challenges of our time is to put aside stale ideology and petty partisanship and embrace what works."

Political analysts describe Gregg as an old-school Yankee conservative who is most passionate about fiscal issues.

"President Obama is getting the last of a vanishing breed, a New England Republican," said Dante J. Scala, a University of New Hampshire political scientist. "I think he'll be an astringent on the Obama administration, someone who will raise a skeptical voice on some of the economic plans."

Gregg followed his father, former New Hampshire governor Hugh Gregg (R), into public service. A graduate of Columbia University and the Boston University School of Law, the younger Gregg worked briefly as a lawyer before beginning his political career in 1978, when he unseated a Republican to join the five-member state Executive Council. Two years later, he was elected to the House. He served two terms as governor before being elected to the Senate in 1992, where he is now the ranking minority member of the Senate Budget Committee.

In 2005, Gregg matched five of six Powerball numbers on a lottery ticket purchased in the District, winning $853,492. "Even senators can be lucky," he told reporters after picking up his check.


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