Gregg Withdraws As Obama's Commerce Pick

Sen. Judd Gregg of New Hampshire was supposed to be the third Republican in the Obama Cabinet. Instead, he became the third Cabinet choice to withdraw from consideration. Gregg had sought the job and accepted it little more than a week ago, but then found the policy differences too great.

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RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Renee Montagne.

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And I'm Steve Inskeep. Good morning.

Fixing the economy is tough enough but apparently, it's nearly as big a challenge for President Obama to find a Commerce secretary. Republican Senator Judd Gregg suddenly withdrew from consideration yesterday. He said the job wouldn't allow him to be himself.

The position was open after the last nominee, Bill Richardson, also withdrew. In a moment we'll get some analysis from NPR's Mara Liasson. We start this morning with NPR's Scott Horsley.

SCOTT HORSLEY: Judd Gregg was an unorthodox pick for Commerce secretary. The Republican was supposed to add a little more bipartisan luster to the Cabinet, and provide credibility on budget matters that would appeal to fiscal conservatives. But less than two weeks after standing alongside President Obama and accepting the job, the New Hampshire senator announced he'd had second thoughts.

Senator JUDD GREGG (Republican, New Hampshire): I just realized, as these issues started to come at us and they started to crystallize, that it really wasn't a good fit, and that I wouldn't be comfortable doing this, and it wouldn't be fair to him to be part of a team and not be able to be 100 percent on the team.

HORSLEY: Gregg said in a statement that he discovered irresolvable conflicts with the president on issues like the economic stimulus package and the census. Most of his fellow Senate Republicans voted against the stimulus bill, and the GOP has raised alarm about a White House effort to assert more control over the census, a Commerce Department function.

In talking with reporters, though, Gregg said it wasn't any particular issue that prompted his withdrawal. Rather, he said, it was a recognition that he isn't cut out to carry water for someone else.

Sen. GREGG: It was my mistake, obviously, to say yes, because it wasn't my personality. And after 30 years of being myself, it would've been hard to assume another role where I couldn't have been 100 percent, all the time, the team player that he needed.

HORSLEY: The president and his aides said they were surprised by Gregg's decision. They said it was the senator who'd reached out to them, expressing interest in the Cabinet job, and that Gregg had been very clear throughout the interview process that he would support the president's agenda.

In announcing the pick earlier this month, Mr. Obama acknowledged that he and his nominee did not agree on every issue, including who should've won the presidential election.

President BARACK OBAMA: But we do agree on the urgent need to get American businesses and families back on their feet. We see eye-to-eye on conducting the nation's business in a responsible, transparent and accountable manner. And we know the only way to solve the great challenges of our time is to put aside stale ideology and petty partisanship, and embrace what works.

HORSLEY: En route to Springfield last night for a Lincoln Association dinner, Mr. Obama said he still looks forward to working with Gregg to reduce the long-term deficit.

Pres. OBAMA: The one thing I want to make sure of is people don't take from this the notion that we can't get Democrats and Republicans working together. I'm going to keep on working at this and eventually, we are going to break some of these barriers because the American people need it.

HORSLEY: The president also said he respects Gregg for searching his heart now before he was confirmed, although Gregg himself sounded sheepish that he hadn't made the decision sooner.

Sen. GREGG: This light bulb flickered on and off for a long time. There was no light bulb moment. I struggled with this, and I will continue to struggle with this, I suspect, for the rest of my career because I did not really handle this the way that I usually handle issues, which is definitively and quickly.

HORSLEY: Gregg will get to cast the vote he wants when the stimulus bill comes before the Senate for final approval. He'd sat out the stimulus votes earlier this week. Had he taken the Cabinet post, Gregg's Senate seat would've been filled by a Republican caretaker under an agreement with New Hampshire's Democratic governor. Gregg now plans to serve out the term himself, but says he probably won't seek re-election two years from now.

Scott Horsley, NPR News, Washington.

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