Sen. Gregg Withdraws Commerce Nomination
MELISSA BLOCK, host:
On his way to a Lincoln birthday dinner in Springfield, Illinois tonight, President Obama stepped off to visit a Caterpillar plant in Peoria. While he was there, the president's pick for Commerce Secretary, Republican Senator Judd Gregg of New Hampshire, announced he was withdrawing from consideration. NPR White House correspondent, Scott Horsley, joins us now. And Scott, this news about Judd Gregg is a shocker, what happened?
SCOTT HORSLEY: Well, it's a shocker to us, Melissa - apparently not a shocker to the White House. Senator Gregg disclosed in a conference call just a few minutes ago that he had informed the White House of his decision earlier this week, kept it quiet until this afternoon. This, of course, his choice as being the Commerce Secretary had been announced with great fanfare less than two weeks ago. It was an opportunity to add some more bipartisanship to the Cabinet, but Senator Gregg said in a statement this afternoon that he and President Obama are simply functioning from a different set of views on critical items of policy.
Senator JUDD GREGG (Republican, New Hampshire): I just felt that considering my philosophies and beliefs that it would be difficult to do the job the way it has to be done, which is to be an absolute, unalterable, unwavering team player.
HORSLEY: Gregg went on to say that he still has the greatest respect for President Obama.
BLOCK: And Scott, a statement coming out from the White House Press Secretary, Robert Gibbs, just now saying it was Judd Gregg who first reached out to the president offering to be Commerce Secretary and that Judd Gregg had made it quote "very clear throughout the interview in process that he could support, embrace and move forward with President Obama's agenda." What broke down?
HORSLEY: That's right. Senator Gregg was asked rather pointedly about that and he said he's going to have to reflect himself on why he didn't, sort of, get it early on that these differences were going to be fatal to this partnership. For those who might see a political motive in here, Senator Gregg also said he does not plan to seek re-election in 2010. So he will serve out his term but not beyond that in the Senate. All this, a blow at a time when the president hoped to be sort of celebrating the tentative agreement on the stimulus bill.
BLOCK: And that seems to be one of their disagreements - one of their points of disagreement. Let's talk about that stimulus bill. How big a victory this is for the White House?
HORSLEY: Well, the president said that this is going to be a major step forward on the path towards economic recovery. He's at that Caterpillar plant in Peoria. Last month, Caterpillar announced that they were going to be 22,000 more lay-offs from that company. The president says, and the head of Caterpillar has said, with the stimulus bill, they expect that some of those job cuts will be reversed and that's the pattern the president says he expects to be repeated across the country as companies that had been cutting jobs will now be able to save or add up to three and a half million jobs.
BLOCK: And the compromise on that bill between the House and the Senate announced yesterday - how soon are we likely to get an actual vote?
HORSLEY: Well, we had eventually expected to vote in both chambers tomorrow. Now it looks as if it may (go into the weekend for the Senate. And Judd Gregg says he is going to be there for that vote.
BLOCK: Hmm. How close is this stimulus compromise to what the White House wanted in the first place?
HORSLEY: In terms of size, it's towards the low end at $789 billion. It's smaller than either the House or Senate version. And that's why the White House has now scaled back the jobs that they are associating with this. They had been talking about up to four million jobs - now they're saying three and a half million. They also shrank the president's signature tax cut from $500 per worker down to $400. But, you know, other than that, the White House had not been dramatically involved in the details of the plan. They were sort of interested in the big picture, the broad scope, and didn't drill down really hard into the specifics.
BLOCK: Okay. NPR's White House Correspondent Scott Horsley, with the news that Republican Senator Judd Gregg had withdrawn his name as nominee to be President Obama's commerce secretary. Scott, thanks very much.
HORSLEY: Good to be with you.
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