- The Washington Times - Monday, February 2, 2009

UPDATED:

President Obama was poised to tap Republican Sen. Judd Gregg as his commerce secretary, but officials cautioned Sunday the move would not deliver Democrats complete control of the Senate as they had hoped.

Leading the pack to replace the fiscal conservative was his former chief of staff and a veteran of the Reagan White House, Bonnie Newman. Officials expect New Hampshire Gov. John Lynch, a Democrat, would name her to fill the final two years of Mr. Gregg’s term. Miss Newman would not seek the seat for a full term in 2010.

The move would allow Mr. Gregg to join the Cabinet without giving Democrats’ unchecked power in Congress. It also would spare him a difficult re-election bid.

An administration official said Sunday evening that the White House would worry about the Cabinet pick, not the politics.

“The president will choose the best person for the job, and if it’s Senator Gregg, then Governor Lynch will have the sole responsibility for choosing his replacement,” the official said on the condition of anonymity to discuss internal deliberations.

Mr. Gregg has told colleagues that if he becomes the third Republican in Mr. Obama’s Cabinet - a decision that could come as early as Monday - his replacement would affiliate with the Republicans, denying Democrats’ total dominance, his party leader said Sunday.

“Senator Gregg has assured me that if this were to happen, if it were to happen, it would not change the makeup of the Senate,” Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky told “Face the Nation” on CBS. “In other words, whoever is appointed to replace him would caucus with Senate Republicans, so I think it would have no impact on the balance of power in the Senate.”

Mr. Lynch’s spokesman, Colin Manning, declined comment on any agreement among the players, saying only “this situation is still between the White House and Senator Gregg.”

Gregg spokeswoman Laena Fallon had no comment on Mr. McConnell’s statement.

Miss Newman’s name has climbed to the top of Lynch’s shortlist of names, officials said. She served in both Mr. Reagan’s and George H.W. Bush’s administrations. She was Mr. Gregg’s top aide when he was in the U.S. House, served as a Harvard dean and was one of Mr. Lynch’s first Republican supporters.

Others being discussed include former Republican state House Speaker Doug Scamman, a Lynch ally.

Replacing Mr. Gregg with someone other than a Democrat willing to side with the party would deny Democrats the legislative dominance they seek in the Senate. Sixty votes are required to end debate in the 100-member chamber, but Democrats have just 56 seats, plus two independents who caucus with them.

In spite of being in the minority, Republicans can bottle up legislation through a filibuster as long as they retain at least 41 votes. Minnesota’s disputed Senate race remains tied up in court.

Many officials in New Hampshire and Washington expect Mr. Lynch to name a Republican or an independent as Mr. Gregg’s successor. Democratic leaders have warned supporters in private that Mr. Gregg’s departure would not automatically mean a Democratic replacement.

If Mr. Gregg were nominated, he would be Mr. Obama’s second choice. A grand jury investigation over how state contracts were issued to political donors led New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson to withdraw from consideration.


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