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By Howard Kurtz
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, February 13, 2009; 10:17 AM

There should have been a pre-nup.

It was always destined to be a mixed marriage. But when Judd Gregg agreed to join the Obama Cabinet -- indeed, volunteered to join the Cabinet -- they must have hashed out their differences and decided that the relationship could work.

When the Republican senator abruptly pulled out yesterday, he said that -- d'oh! -- he had just discovered he couldn't support the Democratic president's position on such matters as the stimulus. But the stimulus bill was smaller after this week's compromise. Something's not adding up. Clearly, the New Hampshire lawmaker came under tremendous pressure to back out. He would not join a team of rivals on Lincoln's 200th birthday.

The insta-reaction is that the Obama team screwed up, but I'm not sure that's fair. It's not like Gregg was discovered to have owed back taxes. The man made a commitment and then claimed irreconcilable differences. You ask a woman to marry you, she says yes, takes your ring, you print the invitations and she doesn't show up at the altar -- that's the groom's fault? (The fact that Judd once voted to abolish the department should have been a clue.)

Some Democrats surely must be saying, enough with the Republicans. Although the president's first pick, Bill Richardson, had to withdraw as well. Anyone out there want to be commerce secretary?

Journalists, by the way, are devoting a thousand times more coverage to the Commerce Department search than they will to the department once someone takes the job. (Who recalls all the coverage for Juanita Kreps, Philip Klutznick, Mac Baldrige, Barbara Franklin, Norm Mineta, Donald Evans and Carlos Gutierrez?)

But the bottom line is that Obama, who was finally enjoying 24 hours of positive press after ramming the stimulus bill through, seems back on the defensive. Not that the average American gives a rip who runs the Commerce Department. But the failed Gregg gamble adds to the media image of a shaky presidential debut.

"The stunning move further erodes Obama's effort to forge a bipartisan approach to governing and enables Gregg -- who had recused himself from all Senate votes while his nomination was pending -- to vote against the stimulus bill," says the Boston Globe.

"Gregg, who for three decades in elected office has portrayed himself as a steady and sober politician, sought yesterday to explain his decision in a rare public session of self-analysis, during which he sounded alternately flustered and surprised at his initial decision to join the Obama Cabinet."

"Mr. Gregg said it had become clear that he had made a mistake in accepting the president's offer to join the cabinet," the NYT reports. " 'That was my mistake, not his,' the senator said, adding that he admired President Obama and the team he has assembled . . .

"Mr. Gregg's withdrawal was the latest blow for the White House, which has seen three cabinet nominees withdraw from consideration."

USA Today has the Rahm line: "Emanuel downplayed the withdrawal. 'Will the economic recovery or Judd Gregg be the bigger discussion point a week from now?' he said."


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