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.