White House Cheat Sheet: Picking Judd Gregg
President Obama appears to have settled on New Hampshire Republican Sen. Judd Gregg as his pick to head the Commerce Department, a choice that is expected to be announced some time this week, according to informed sources in both parties.
The Gregg selection provides an interesting window in the mind of Obama and his senior advisers as the pick works on at least three levels: the partisan (or bipartisan), the political and the practical.
Let's break each down.
From a partisan perspective, picking Gregg is yet another sign that Obama's talk of finding the best person for the job regardless of party affiliation is being borne out in his actions. Gregg, if nominated and confirmed, would join Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, a former Illinois Republican congressman, and Defense Secretary Robert Gates, who was appointed to that post by former President George W. Bush and retained by Obama, as visible evidence that the new president is trying to set an example of how he wants to do thing differently in Washington. (Some would say the problems surrounding former Sen. Tom Daschle, Obama's pick for Health and Human Services, reek of politics as usual -- but more on that below.)
At a political level, the pick could well be a masterstroke. While sources on Capitol Hill suggest that Gregg will only take the job if Democratic Gov. John Lynch promises to appoint a Republican to serve out the remaining two years of his term, there are many people -- particularly within the GOP -- who wonder whether Gregg will really win that concession. Even if he does, the names being bandied about for Republicans are all in the "caretaker" model, meaning that the seat will be open in 2010. Democrats are quickly lining up behind Rep. Paul Hodes as their nominee and Republicans have no obvious candidate to step in for Gregg. Given New Hampshire's strong move toward Democrats over the last two elections, the party would have to feel good about winning in an open seat scenario. (FYI: The frontrunner for the caretaker nod is Bonnie Newman, a former chief of staff to Gregg, and a founding member of Republicans for Lynch in 2004.)
Finally, at the practical level, putting Gregg at Commerce would give Obama someone known and trusted in the Senate whom he could task with selling the need for entitlement reform -- a high priority for the new president that will be a centerpiece of the upcoming fiscal responsibility summit in February. Gregg, who has served in the Senate since 1992, is a past chairman of the Budget Committee -- a perch from which he emerged as a strong advocate for just the sort of entitlement reform Obama is now advocating.
Looked at from those three perspectives, it's easy to see why Obama wants Gregg for his final Cabinet slot.
Sked Stuff: It's a big week for northeastern Republicans (the few that are left) at the White House. Not only could Gregg be announced as the next Commerce Secretary as soon as today, but Gov. Jim Douglas (R-Vt.) also will have an audience with the president this morning to talk about the economic stimulus package currently wending its way through Congress. Douglas has been Vermont's chief executive since 2002 and has withstood the Democratic tide in the region despite having to run for reelection every two years. It's more bipartisan outreach for Obama who knows that Douglas needs votes of Democrats and Independents, who largely favor the economic stimulus plan, if he wants to get reelected again in 2010.
News Nugget: Former South Dakota Sen. Tom Daschle, Obama's nominee for HHS secretary, will meet behind closed doors today with the members of the Senate Finance Committee in an attempt to explain more than $100,000 in unpaid back taxes for the use of a car and driver, among other things. Jim Manley, a spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (Nev.), said Sunday that his boss still believes Daschle is the "right man for the job and is confident that he will be confirmed." And, as Paul Kane notes in a story from the Sunday Post, Daschle's long relationships with senators of both partisan stripes may well be his saving grace in what promises to be a somewhat difficult confirmation process. While Democrats are outwardly confident, there are signs of dissent. Arizona Sen. Jon Kyl, the second ranking Republican in the chamber, said Sunday on Fox News Sunday that he was "troubled" by the revelations against Daschle and said it was "too early to tell" whether his former colleague would be confirmed. One Republican Senate aide said that GOPers would allow the Finance committee some leeway to investigate the charges but added: "There are serious questions that both Mr. Daschle and President Obama will need to address before this matter will be considered on the floor."
Econstimpack Ads: The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee is launching radio ads in markets comprising 28 Republican-held House districts today aimed at scoring political points for the vote last week on Obama's economic stimulus package. The ads, which we first reported in our "Monday Fix" newspaper column, target a wide variety of GOP members from freshmen like Chris Lee (N.Y.) and Brett Guthrie (Ky.) to leaders like National Republican Congressional Committee Chairman Pete Sessions (Texas) and House Minority Whip Eric Cantor (Va.). "Republicans' champagne wishes and caviar dreams simply don't connect with middle class families struggling to make ends meet and furious that their tax dollars are going to bail out banks, build schools in Iraq, or send American jobs overseas," said DCCC executive director Brian Wolff -- channeling Robin Leach. The radio ads come days after a series of liberal outside groups -- Moveon.org, Service Employees International Union, Americans United for Change -- announced TV ads targeted at persuading Republican senators like Maine's Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe, Arlen Specter (Pa.) and Chuck Grassley (Iowa).
Click It!: Election Day 2010 is still 638 days away but if you're desperate to cast a ballot before then, make sure to check out YouTube's "Ad Blitz" contest where you can vote for your favorite ad from the Super Bowl last night.
Burris' Burden: New polling in Illinois suggests that appointed Sen. Roland Burris (D) could have a real fight on his hands next year if he decides to seek a full term. The survey, which was done for the Daily Kos blog by Research 2000, put Burris in the lead in a hypothetical Democratic primary with just 26 percent followed by Rep. Jan Schakowsky at 12 percent and state Treasurer Alexi Giannoulias at 11 percent. A whopping 51 percent of Democratic primary voters are undecided. More troubling for Burris? Thirty-five percent of the sample had a favorable opinion about him while another 35 percent felt unfavorably toward the new senator. The data suggest that Burris must not only get better known between now and next November (he will) but that he also must work to rehab an image tainted by former Gov. Rod Blagojevich.
Putnam -- Out: Florida Rep. Adam Putnam, the red-haired, conservative firebrand who was seen as a rising star among House Republicans, is stepping aside after this term to run for the state's Agriculture commissioner gig. While Democrats will almost certainly cast Putnam's retirement as a sign of Republicans' continued morale problems, this is a decision best seen through the prism of state politics. Putnam has long acknowledged his interest in being governor of Florida and is clearly better positioned to claim that title in 2014 (when GOP Gov. Charlie Crist is term limited out of office) from a statewide post than a seat in Congress. Expect Democrats to take a long look at this seat, which went comfortably for Bush in 2000 and 2004 before Obama lost it narrowly in 2008.
Say What?: "The Republican Congress did a great job in drawing the line." -- Newly-elected Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele on Fox News Sunday praising House Republicans for their unified "no" vote on the president's economic stimulus package last week.
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