Judd Gregg Withdraws as Commerce Nominee

Strike two on finding a Commerce Secretary:

Saying “I made a mistake,” Republican Sen. Judd Gregg of New Hampshire abruptly withdrew as commerce secretary nominee on Thursday and left the fledgling White House suddenly coping with Barack Obama’s third Cabinet withdrawal.

Gregg cited “irresolvable conflicts” with Obama’s policies, specifically mentioning the $790 billion economic stimulus bill and 2010 census in a statement released without warning by his Senate office. Later, at a news conference in the Capitol, he sounded more contrite. “The president asked me to do it,” he said of the job offer. “I said, yes. That was my mistake.”

Obama offered a somewhat different account from Gregg. “It comes as something of a surprise, because the truth, you know, Mr. Gregg approached us with interest and seemed enthusiastic,” Obama said in an interview with the Springfield (Ill.) Journal-Register.Later, he told reporters traveling with him on Air Force One that he was glad Gregg “searched his heart” and changed course now before the Senate confirmed him to the Cabinet post. He also said Gregg’s withdrawal won’t deter him from working with Republicans and trying to change the partisan ways of Washington. “Clearly he was just having second thoughts about leaving the Senate, a place where he’s thrived,” Obama added.

Truly bizarre. While Gregg was considered a RINO by many in the base, he is a Republican. When you think about it, Commerce is probably the department where the two parties have their most fundamental differences. The fact that he recused himself from voting on the stimulus package after accepting the nomination should have, in hindsight, been a clue.

UPDATE
James D. Seaver points to Gregg’s statement that, “For 30 years, I’ve been my own person in charge of my own views, and I guess I hadn’t really focused on the job of working for somebody else and carrying their views, and so this is basically where it came out” and retorts that, this makes Gregg  “an arrogant jackass,” observing that, “his job has always been to work for somebody else and carry their views. You know — his constituents? The people of New Hampshire? Memba’ them?” [all emphases in original]

That’s one view of a Senator’s job.  Edmund Burke expressed a very different one:  You owe your constituents your best judgment and efforts, not reflexive fealty to their views.  So, yes, he works for the people of New Hampshire but his job is to look out for their long-term interests, not their current opinions.

Carrying someone else’s water is not easy for someone used to being in a position of leadership.

UPDATE: Ezra Klein makes an obvious but constantly overlooked point:

Bipartisanship is hard, it turns out. And for a reason. People disagree about stuff, and while civility may render those disagreements more respectful, it doesn’t make them go away. Even such a dazzling display of respect as offering Gregg a cabinet post can’t overcome the fact that he wants to privatize Social Security and the Obama administration does not.

Nor should it.  Obama and the Dems won and get to try to enact these things into public policy.  But Gregg and the minority Republicans won, too, and get to try to thwart them or, at least, force compromises.  That’s how the system was designed to work.

Bipartisanship, in the sense of respect for the other side and actually trying to form consensus on how to achieve common goals, is a good thing.  Knee jerk deference to the other side for the sake of comity, on the other hand, should be avoided and usually is.

UPDATE: Even more from CQ’s Jonathan Allen:

The post of Commerce secretary in a Democratic administration never seemed like a good fit for New Hampshire Republican Sen. Judd Gregg. It’s not just because Gregg voted in favor of abolishing the department in 1995, and not just because he had a relatively high-profile battle with President Clinton over funding for the 2000 census.

The head of the typically low-profile department is charged primarily with carrying out portions of the president’s economic policy and overseeing the politically delicate operations of the Census Bureau, the findings of which determine the reapportionment of congressional districts, affect the redrawing of district lines and are factored into formulas for numerous federally funded programs.  It’s not considered heavy lifting among Cabinet jobs, and it often is given out as a plum to a faithful partisan who either shares the president’s political philosophy or is willing to surrender his independence.

That made the cerebral, independent and fiscally conservative Gregg a difficult fit for the job of running President Obama’s Commerce Department, as Gregg himself noted at a Thursday news conference.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. Jim Henley says:

    I think it was pretty sneaky of Barack Obama not to tell Judd Gregg he was a Democrat.

  2. steve s says:

    I have to own up to an error I made. A week or so ago here I called Gregg a “RINO”. I didn’t actually know much about him, or enough to make that call. I just assumed that since Obama was likely to pick sensible people, and any sensible republican gets sneered at as a RINO, Gregg must be one.

    Since then I have learned that he is not, and that he is firmly embedded in the Party of Stupid. That makes me disappointed in Obama. It tells me he is really favoring bipartisanship over other characteristics, at least in some cases. And that’s troubling because while in some hippy-dippy fantasy we can all ‘just get along’ and work together for the betterment of humankind, that’s not reality. Reality is that the GOP is both extremely stupid and mendacious. And we should have as little input from them as possible, lest we relive the last 8 years. Or the ones that followed the last GOP control of government in the late 20’s.

    I hope Obama’s just being a tactician, and will give the GOP as little as possible, because our futures depend on it. But I’m worried.

  3. steve s says:

    speech I’d like to see Obama give:

    “My fellow americans. As the Gingrey incident shows, Rush Limbaugh runs the GOP. They do his bidding. And he said, on his show, that he wants me to fail. That means he wants my policies to fail. He wants the economy to tank, our jihadist enemies to prevail, our schools to crumble, and our citizens to be impoverished. This is unamerican, but they don’t care. They put party over country. I can therefore not maintain my cherished fantasy that the GOP is arguing in good faith. Therefore we will pay them no heed at all. We will abandon the filibuster rule, as the GOP said they had the ability to do in the 90’s, and we will pass whatever legislation we deem necessary. No republican senator or congressman will get a thin dime. Only that way will we have a chance of success. I don’t think I can undo all the damage they did by 2012, but dammit I’m gonna try. And by kicking out the party who would call Forrest Gump an intellectual elitist, you’ve given me a window of opportunity to work with. Thank you, and hang in there. I’ll do my best.”

  4. steve s says:

    “…also, I was this close to having Fred Barnes and Limbaugh and Bithead etc kidnapped and tortured in a CIA black prison, to show them just how immoral and evil that is, but then I realized I’d be as bad as the guy they loved was. So I’m not doing it. But I’d be kidding if I denied that some part of me liked the idea.”

  5. Jim Treacher says:

    I think it was pretty sneaky of Barack Obama not to tell Judd Gregg he was a Democrat.

    And that he was going to pull the Census out from under the guy he put in charge of it.

  6. James says:

    What steve s said.

  7. Davebo says:

    And that he was going to pull the Census out from under the guy he put in charge of it.

    Oh give me a break! That statement reflects such an ignorance of civics it’s laughable.

    Whomever ends up running the Census serves at the pleasure of the president and always has.

  8. Steve Plunk says:

    We need to scrap the word bipartisan. Instead we should urge and respect nonpartisan efforts in politics. Compromising one’s principles is often referred to as being bipartisan since it aids in reaching compromise. But don’t we want our elected representatives to adhere to principles while eschewing the practice of using disagreements as partisan tools to advance their own or their party’s chances in elections.

    Gregg has decided he could not adhere to his principles and serve in this administration. There is nothing wrong with that and it is not a partisan move. Gregg looked closely at what he could and could not do before deciding to withdrawal.

    Obama was throwing a public relations bone of bipartisan cooperation that was easily seen nothing but showmanship. Gregg didn’t want to be his token Republican.

  9. SavageView says:

    Gregg actively pursued the nomination. While it was pending, he refused to do the job he currently had or to resign in order to prepare for the job he had actively pursued. He then decides he doesn’t want the job he pursued. Moreover, he concocts myths about the Census as his exit plan.* What a typical Republican quisling. You guys must be proud.

    *The Bureau of the Census is an independent agency that just happens to fall under Commerce; it could easily fall under Homeland Security by the standards usually applied to such matters on this site. The Secretary has no influence on the dicennial enumeration.

  10. SavageView says:

    Gregg has decided he could not adhere to his principles and serve in this administration. There is nothing wrong with that and it is not a partisan move. Gregg looked closely at what he could and could not do before deciding to withdrawal.

    Um, perhaps your quisling Gregg ought to have considered those issues before actively pursuing the job with Obama.

  11. Jim Treacher says:

    Oh give me a break! That statement reflects such an ignorance of civics it’s laughable.

    Well, why don’t you educate us.

    Whomever ends up running the Census serves at the pleasure of the president and always has.

    Yes, he won. He gets to do whatever he wants and nobody is allowed to disagree. We get it.