Gregg withdraws from consideration for Commerce post

Sen. Judd Gregg, R-New Hampshire, speaks next to President Obama.
Republican Sen. Judd Gregg withdrew his nomination as President Barack Obama’s commerce secretary Thursday, citing "irresolvable conflicts" over the administration’s stimulus bill and the upcoming 2010 census.

“We are functioning from a different set of views on many critical items of policy,” Gregg said in a statement announcing the decision. “Obviously, the president requires a team that is fully supportive of all his initiatives.” Gregg would have been the third Republican to join the Democratic administration, following Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood. The third-term Republican and leading fiscal conservative once voted to abolish the Commerce Department. “I want to thank the president for nominating me to serve in his Cabinet as secretary of commerce. This was a great honor, and I had felt that I could bring some views and ideas that would assist him in governing during this difficult time. I especially admire his willingness to reach across the aisle,” he said in a statement. Watch Gregg say why “it wasn’t a good fit” » “However, it has become apparent during this process that this will not work for me as I have found that on issues such as the stimulus package and the census there are irresolvable conflicts for me,” he wrote. “Prior to accepting this post, we had discussed these and other potential differences, but unfortunately we did not adequately focus on these concerns. We are functioning from a different set of views on many critical items of policy.” Interactive: Other nominees that have withdrawn » White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs issued a statement late Thursday afternoon saying “we regret that he has had a change of heart.” “Sen. Gregg reached out to the president and offered his name for secretary of commerce. He was very clear throughout the interviewing process that despite past disagreements about policies, he would support, embrace and move forward with the president’s agenda,” Gibbs said. “Once it became clear after his nomination that Sen. Gregg was not going to be supporting some of President Obama’s key economic priorities, it became necessary for Sen. Gregg and the Obama administration to part ways.” iReport: Share your thoughts on Gregg’s withdrawal But Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell welcomed Gregg’s withdrawal. “Sen. Gregg made a principled decision to return and we’re glad to have him,” McConnell, R-Kentucky, announced. “He is among the smartest, most effective legislators to serve in the Senate — Democrat or Republican — and a key adviser to me and to the Republican conference. It’s great to have him back.” A Democratic source close to the Obama White House said Thursday that Gregg “campaigned for the job” — that the senator from New Hampshire asked Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid to approach the president about the Commerce post. Gregg “sat with [Obama], said he wanted the job, knew his policies and erratically dropped out without warning,” said the source, minutes after the Republican senator announced his withdrawal from consideration. A Republican source close to Gregg says the “census tipped things,” adding to increasing “worries about his seat at the table” and that Gregg might be marginalized. Gregg worried that “if on any issue important to Democratic constituencies — they are on one side and Judd is on the other — he [Gregg] is muted,” said the source. Meanwhile, a Republican aide familiar with the decision, said Gregg was privately consulting with Republican leaders about this move for the “past couple of days” before making final decision Thursday. Obama’s decision to cross party lines and nominate New Hampshire Republican to run the Commerce Department had set off a partisan battle over the 2010 census. African-American and Latino leaders are concerned that the Census Bureau, which is part of the Commerce Department, might lack sufficient resources under Gregg’s leadership to accurately count ethnic minorities. And in response to statements from the White House that it will work closely with the bureau’s next director, some House Republicans are suggesting that the Obama administration could manipulate the 2010 tally to achieve a longer-term political advantage for Democrats because congressional redistricting depends on census results. The census has been the topic of political debate in the past. Many experts believed that the door-to-door approach used in the 1990 census count missed 1 to 2 percent of the total U.S. population, with many of those uncounted Americans thought to be minorities who lived in urban areas. To address that concern, Census Bureau officials proposed using some basic statistical techniques to fill in the gaps. Democrats tended to favor this approach, which were expected to increase the population count in areas of Democratic strength; Republicans tended to oppose the new techniques for similar reasons. The controversy even reached the U.S. Supreme Court in the 1990s. Gregg, a member of the Senate Appropriations Committee and of the subcommittee that oversees the Commerce Department, cast a vote in 1995 to abolish the entire department, and in 1999 opposed emergency funding for the 2000 census. Gregg is yet another nominee to withdraw from the Commerce post nomination. Obama first nominated New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson to be commerce secretary. But earlier this month Richardson withdrew, citing the distraction of a federal investigation into his ties to a company that has done business with his state.

Richardson told reporters he underestimated how long the investigation would take, calling it an “untenable delay” likely to hinder the confirmation process. Gregg, a third-term senator known for being fiscally conservative, is up for re-election in 2010.