Obama Selects Gregg For Commerce Secretary

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President Barack Obama announced his pick Tuesday for Commerce Secretary. It's Republican Senator Judd Gregg of New Hampshire. We explore what this choice means for the Republican—Democratic balance in the U.S. Senate.


From the studios of NPR West, this is Day to Day. I'm Alex Cohen. Coming up, the bailout money doled out last year was supposed to increase lending. Still, many banks are having troubles making loans. First, though, today, President Barack Obama announced New Hampshire Senator Judd Gregg as his choice for Commerce secretary.

(Soundbite of speech)

President BARACK OBAMA: Judd's a master of reaching across the aisle to get things done. He'll be an outstanding addition to the depth and experience of my economic team, a trusted voice in my Cabinet, and an able and persuasive ambassador for industry, who makes it known to the world that America is open for business.

COHEN: But as one position gets filled, another one becomes open. Here to tell us about it is NPR's Don Gonyea, who joins us from the White House. Hi, Don.


COHEN: So, news this morning that the woman slated to fill a new position, chief performance officer, is withdrawing her candidacy. Who is she and what happened?

GONYEA: It's Nancy Killefer, and she had been appointed by President-elect Obama as the deputy director of the Office of Management and Budget. But also, she was going to serve as the chief performance officer for the White House. Her job was to have been - in effect, to act as a watchdog, to really go through the entire budget line by line and find and root out ways to find programs that are not effectively doing what they're supposed to do. But there have been questions about, again, a tax issue that came up as early as a month ago. And for a year and a half, she failed to pay unemployment taxes in the District of Columbia for someone who worked at her home. And she, today, sent a letter to the president saying that, you know, it could be a distraction, that the confirmation could be difficult, that there'd be too much focus on this, so she has stepped aside.

COHEN: This is the third appointee with tax problems, the second to withdraw from an appointment. Does this say something about possible liabilities of this new administration trying to fill so many jobs so quickly?

GONYEA: Well, it does raise some of those questions. They have been praised for the smoothness and the efficiency of the transition process. But with three, you know, high-profile people here kind of each having these problems, and you throw New Mexico Governor Richardson into the mix, it does raise some questions, and they are increasingly being asked these questions about how well they check these things out and why, in some cases, you know, if they knew about them, it didn't give them pause.

COHEN: Let's turn now to the president's choice for Commerce secretary, Judd Gregg. He was a Republican senator. What will his departure mean for the Senate now?

GONYEA: It means there is another open Senate seat, and New Hampshire's governor, a Democrat, gets to replace Gregg. And what we're hearing is that a deal has been made by which a Republican will be filled to replace Gregg. That means the Democratic majority in the Senate will not get to that filibuster-proof 60, but it also means that the seat is likely to be an open one in two years, and Democrats will have a shot at it then.

COHEN: You say "deal." After the recent Rod Blagojevich scandal, you would think that making a deal around a Senate seat would be a little risky, no?

GONYEA: One would think everybody would avoid such conversation. But apparently, Senator Gregg was not willing to leave his Senate seat unless he had some confidence that a Republican would replace him. His argument being, the people of New Hampshire elected a Republican, him, to that seat, so they're entitled to have a Republican fill it out. There is a difference between the Blagojevich thing. This all seems to have been done under the light of day. There does not appear to be any, you know, dollars that were talked about or changed hands or offered or asked for. Still, it is getting into an area that you think they might just avoid it completely.

COHEN: NPR's Don Gonyea, thank you.

GONYEA: Thank you.

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