Gregg Says Views Were Incompatible With White House

Posted February 12, 2009 at 6:10pm

Sen. Judd Gregg (R-N.H.) revealed little during a Thursday evening news conference regarding his decision earlier in the day to withdraw his nomination to be President Barack Obama’s Commerce secretary, saying only that it became clear that the position was not a good fit for him professionally. Although Republican sources and Gregg’s Republican Senate colleagues were suggesting that the culprit was Obama’s decision to oversee the 2010 Census, Gregg insisted cryptically that the issue was “only slightly catalyzing.” Gregg profusely thanked Obama for the opportunity and lauded his leadership, but rejected the administration’s claim that the Senator promoted himself for the Cabinet post. “He asked me to do it, I said yes, that was my mistake,” Gregg told reporters on Capitol Hill, adding under further questioning: “Well, one of the nice things about this business is, everybody has a different recollection of what happened. There is no question but that when they asked me if I would do the job, I said I would, and that’s the bottom line. “And as a very practical matter, I made a mistake. I should have focused sooner and more effectively on the implications of being in the Cabinet versus myself as an individual doing my job. That’s something I’ll struggle with for a while.” However, the Obama administration claimed in a published statement that it was Gregg who campaigned for the job first. “Sen. Gregg reached out to the president and offered his name for secretary of Commerce,” White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs said. Gregg said there were no tax issues or other problems in the vetting process that forced him to withdraw. Former Sen. Tom Daschle (D-S.D.) recently withdrew as Health and Human Services secretary-designate because of unpaid taxes, and Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner’s confirmation was nearly derailed because of unpaid taxes. Gregg became the second Commerce secretary nominee to withdraw. New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson (D) was the first, because of a federal investigation into his gubernatorial administration. Gregg said he would cast a vote on Obama’s $789 billion stimulus bill, expected to hit the Senate floor as early as Thursday night, but declined to say whether he would support the legislation; when he was still on his way to being confirmed as Commerce secretary, Gregg had recused himself. Gregg also was somewhat vague regarding his re-election plans, saying first he would “probably not run.” But when asked by reporters if that meant there was still a chance he might run for re-election in 2010, when his seat is up, Gregg answered “no.” Bonnie Newman, an aide to Gregg when he served in the House and a Republican supporter of New Hampshire Democratic Gov. John Lynch, was set to be appointed as Gregg’s replacement, but had said she would not stand for election in 2010. Republican members of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee who have led the opposition to Obama’s decision to remove the Census from the Commerce Department’s purview commended Gregg’s withdrawal. Gregg’s Republican Senate colleagues were equally pleased. “My first reaction is, welcome back Judd, we really need you,” Sen. Robert Bennett (R-Utah) said. “My initial reaction was surprise, but as I think about it, I can understand his reaction to the stimulus package, and the decision to take the Census Bureau out of the Department of Commerce.” With the next round of redistricting looming in 2011 and former Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee Chairman Rahm Emanuel serving as Obama’s chief of staff, the president’s decision to move authority over the Census into the White House has become a rallying point for conservative activists. By the same token, civil rights groups applauded the decision, as their initial reaction to Gregg’s nomination was lukewarm. Gregg, a pragmatic but consistent conservative throughout his Senate tenure, surprised some colleagues and political observers with his original decision to accept Obama’s nomination to serve as Commerce secretary, given his long-standing conservative views on economic issues. But with the possibility that he would not run for re-election increasingly likely, his decision to take the job appeared to make some sense. Gregg indicated as much Thursday, saying he thought the post offered the right challenge at the right time under a very gifted leader. But Gregg, whose résumé includes serving as New Hampshire governor, said he did not anticipate what it meant to serve as part of a team after a long career of essentially operating as his own boss. Gregg also indicated that he was not able to reconcile his own conservative views with that of the Democratic administration he would have joined, although the Senator did offer an endorsement of Obama’s plan to address the troubled financial and lending sector as outlined by Geithner earlier this week. “I’ve been my own person for 30 years. I’ve been a governor, I’ve been a Congressman, I’ve been a Senator, I’ve made my own decisions, stood for what I believed in — you know, I’m a fiscal conservative as everybody knows, a really strong one — and it just became clear to me that it would be very difficult, day in and day out, to serve in this Cabinet, or any Cabinet, for that matter,” Gregg said. “The president has been incredibly gracious.”