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Judd Gregg's Second Thoughts

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Republican Sen. Judd Gregg of New Hampshire abruptly withdrew his nomination as commerce secretary Thursday, the third Cabinet-level pick scuttled. The move left President Barack Obama without a full team to lead the government. Video by AP

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Friday, February 13, 2009

Political analysts and others assess the New Hampshire senator's withdrawal as a Cabinet nominee. Below are thoughts from Karl Rove, Mary Beth Cahill, Ed Rogers, Larry J. Sabato, Linda Chavez, Douglas E. Schoen, Norman J. Ornstein and Jennifer Donahue.

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KARL ROVE

White House deputy chief of staff and senior adviser to George W. Bush; columnist for Newsweek and the Wall Street Journal

It was a bold and positive move when President Obama announced Sen. Judd Gregg as his choice for commerce secretary. The new president has made a point of proclaiming that his Cabinet would have greater influence and a bigger role in decision making than in previous administrations. Saying he'd listen to and depend upon the taciturn and flinty independent senator from New Hampshire was good news for the administration and for the country.

Judd Gregg is smart, principled, tough and, while a man of few words, straightforward and uncowed in what he does say. A patriot, he was putting our country ahead of party in accepting President Obama's nomination.

What Judd Gregg showed today is that he's not willing to swap his integrity for a place in the Cabinet. When the administration insisted on gutting Commerce Department supervision of the Census and putting it under direct White House political control, it stung Gregg. And when the administration set aside its own principles of "temporary, targeted and timely" stimulus measures to embrace a big spending measure full of programs that Gregg has opposed since coming to Congress, New Hampshire's senior senator realized that he was window dressing and that the administration had a greater interest in grabbing his Senate seat in 2010 than in listening to his counsel today.

His withdrawal is a loss for the Obama administration. It is welcome news for the country that there are still people in politics who put principle above personal advancement.

MARY BETH CAHILL

Manager of Sen. John Kerry's presidential campaign; former chief of staff to Sen. Edward M. Kennedy

Judd Gregg was a surprising choice, a man of principle whose views on policy are directly counter to those of the Obama administration. It might have worked, but his abstention on the stimulus was the canary in the coal mine of future problems between the secretary of an economic agency and the president's vision of how we get out of this mess. Gregg's decision to step back was the right one.

There are many talented Democrats and independents who would love to run Commerce, an agency with broad jurisdiction and a big role to play in fixing the economy. I think the White House will have no dearth of good candidates, and Judd Gregg's flirtation with joining the Obama administration will soon be a footnote.

ED ROGERS

White House staffer to Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush; chairman of BGR Group

Judd Gregg's withdrawal means that the world is round, that water is not flowing uphill and that the laws of physics are intact. Gregg is an earnest, sincere, old-school conservative all the way to his bones. And I love him.

How was he going to support card check for labor unions? How was he going to argue that Obama's plans for punitive environmental regulation and mandated health care would be in America's best commercial interest? But those weren't the only problems; this nomination was a flawed concept.

If a Republican were elected president and needed a list of 100 likely candidates for commerce secretary, Gregg would not be on it. The secretary of commerce must be an aggressive personality, a charmer and a real operator capable of battling competing interests at the State, Treasury, Labor and other departments. Judd Gregg should have been something like the U.S. trade representative or envoy to Russia and Iran, jobs in which having the ability to never move, blink or sweat would come in handy.

This doesn't mean that attempts at bipartisanship in Washington must end. But Obama can't have Cabinet secretaries from the core of the Republican caucus because the core of the party has too many sincere disagreements with Obama's liberal approach, especially on matters related to commerce! It was a blunder to think this could work.

LARRY J. SABATO

Director of the University of Virginia's Center for Politics

The Gregg withdrawal can be a watershed. It's been a grand and noble experiment, but now the Obama administration should abandon aggressive bipartisanship. The president deserves great credit for reaching out to Republicans in Cabinet appointments, frequent consultation and some substantive compromise on the stimulus bill. President Obama read public opinion correctly: Americans want civil debate between the parties, and that aspect of bipartisanship should be continued.

Yet pleasantries should never be exchanged at the cost of an electoral mandate. Obama secured a higher percentage of the vote than any Democratic presidential nominee since 1860, save for Franklin Roosevelt and Lyndon Johnson. Splitting the difference on issues of principle waters down his mandate and dilutes the changes his supporters expect him to deliver. We have a two-party system, not a one-party scheme, and the fundamental differences between Democrats and Republicans create clear choices for the electorate. Obama should succeed or fail based on enactment of the Democratic platform. Voters will be the judge of Democrats' handiwork in 2010 and 2012. Leave "national unity" governments to parliamentary nations, and let the American two-party system work.

LINDA CHAVEZ

Chairman of the Center for Equal Opportunity; former member of the Reagan administration

Gregg's withdrawal is a blow to bipartisanship in the Obama era. But bipartisanship is highly overrated, especially when it means compromising on principles. There has been precious little bipartisan compromise on the stimulus package Congress is about to adopt. Maybe that's good. The debate has put in stark relief the irreconcilable differences between Republicans and Democrats. Republicans want to put money primarily into the hands of individuals. President Obama believes, as he said Monday, that "the federal government is the only entity left with the resources to jolt our economy back into life."

When the bill passes, the Democrats will be almost entirely responsible for its success or failure. The people will be able to judge for themselves whether government spending is really the answer. If the Democrats fail to deliver, Americans won't have to wait long to deliver their verdict: 2010 is around the corner.

DOUGLAS E. SCHOEN

Democratic pollster and author

This is a huge defeat and embarrassment for the Obama administration -- particularly with regard to its efforts to enhance and develop bipartisanship. Moreover, Gregg's withdrawal underscores how difficult it has become to bring both parties together to solve our nation's problems.

Gregg has attempted to accept full responsibility, but the likely loser is President Obama.

Gregg cited the stimulus bill as the reason he could not faithfully serve in the administration, underscoring the fact that both the American people and Congress are divided over how to revitalize our economy and financial sector. It is also clear now how politicized the Census Bureau and its work have become.

White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs's delicate efforts to foist the blame on Gregg for vacillation and changing his mind are likely to be ineffective and perhaps counterproductive to administration efforts to win Republican support for its agenda.

The fact of the matter is that the Obama administration has been unable to attract a commerce secretary who is available and able to serve.

NORMAN J. ORNSTEIN

Resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute and co-author of "The Broken Branch: How Congress Is Failing America and How to Get It Back on Track"

Cabinet contenders eyeing an administration run by the opposite party are in a tricky position. There's the prospect of partisan discussions that leave the person from the other side feeling like a Cowboy in the Redskins locker room. There's the need to subordinate personal priorities and policies to the priorities and policies of someone else. But those difficulties are balanced by the honor of service and the opportunity to run a big and important department. From FDR's Republican secretary of war, Henry Stimson, to Bill Clinton's Republican defense secretary, Bill Cohen, to George W. Bush's Democratic transportation secretary, Norm Mineta, distinguished people have understood the trade-off and carried out their terms faithfully and well.

Judd Gregg apparently did not understand, though why it took him this long to figure it out and pull back is a mystery -- and a major embarrassment for Gregg. It is also a bump in the road, one of several now, for President Obama. I don't see how this reflects on the administration's vetting process, unless there is more to the story than we know. It may give Obama another Republican senator to partner with on occasion, beyond the three who voted for his stimulus bill. But it makes the effort to get the administration fully staffed at a record pace a much tougher slog.

JENNIFER DONAHUE

Political director at the New Hampshire Institute of Politics

Judd Gregg's philosophy hasn't changed in two weeks. What has changed is the Obama administration's approach towards the Republicans.

Gregg, a fiscal conservative, got inside the Obama administration last week, when the White House wanted bipartisanship. Stimulus requires spending. Both parties agree on that. Gregg's idea of stimulus spending is different from President Obama's. A week ago, it seemed that was the very reason Obama nominated Gregg as commerce secretary: to hear a different approach, on this bill and others.

But this week White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel admitted that the Obama administration lost control of its message trying for bipartisanship on the stimulus plan. So the White House tacked left to get the bill passed. Two weeks ago, Gregg thought he could support Obama. The administration appears to have lost him as it focused on gaining just enough support to pass its stimulus bill.


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