With an unofficial seat at the Senate Republican leadership table, it’s no accident that Sen. Judd Gregg (N.H.) has been at the center of nearly every major floor fight this Congress.
In fact, Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) voiced his frustration with Gregg last week, noting that the three-term New Hampshire Republican seemed to be “the designated ‘see-if-we-can-mess-up-the-legislation’ guy this year.”
Reid likened Gregg to “somebody who comes into a basketball game, not to score points, just to kind of rough people up, just to kind of get the game going in a different direction.”
In response, Gregg said on the floor, “I appreciate the Senator’s comments. I take them as a compliment. I have been active legislatively. That is, obviously, our job.”
While more junior Republicans have independently mounted floor fights that won praise from their leadership, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has been regularly turning to Gregg to help him find ways to tie the Democratic majority in knots.
“He’s arguably our best sort of idea guy,” McConnell said in an interview Friday. “I rely on him heavily. He’s a major player in the Senate whether he sits at the leadership table or not.”
But Gregg does sit at the leadership table, because McConnell has asked him, along with Sen. Bob Bennett (R-Utah), to join the weekly Republican leadership meeting as an informal “senior adviser.”
Gregg said he acts as a “freelance idea person” in leadership meetings at McConnell’s request.
Senate Minority Whip Trent Lott (R-Miss.) said Gregg brings to the table previous leadership experience as Chief Deputy Whip under both Lott and former Senate Republican Whip Don Nickles (Okla.). But that position does not require election by the Senate Republican Conference.
“I’ve always wondered why he didn’t run for a leadership position,” said Lott, who speculated that Gregg would find it too “restrictive.”
No matter how he got to the table, Gregg’s ideas appear to carry a lot of weight with McConnell, who has twice in the past month and a half drawn the proverbial line in the sand over Republicans’ right to have a vote on a Gregg proposal.
“I think of him not as the guy sent into the game to kind of rough people up,” said McConnell. “He’s the smart-guy point guard, the one who’s good at ideas that will benefit the overall team.”
Gregg’s proposals also have won the broad support of his GOP colleagues, who have stood with him and McConnell on tough votes that have not always played well in the media but have established the new Republican minority as a force to be reckoned with.
One Senate Republican aide said Gregg’s ideas have been well-received because, “He’s viewed as a thinker. ... He’s definitely known for being stubborn, usually with good reason.”
Gregg said he thinks his ideas have caught fire with his colleagues because, “Most of the issues I tend to push are things I think are at the essence of Republican governance.”
A good example of that was Gregg’s ultimately successful attempt to get a vote on an amendment designed to give the president line-item rescission authority over earmarks in spending bills.