From The Washington Post:
Saying he “made a mistake,” Republican Sen. Judd Gregg withdrew yesterday as the nominee for commerce secretary, dealing a fresh blow to President Obama’s quest to fill out his Cabinet and dramatically undercutting his efforts to forge a new bipartisanship in the capital.
Gregg said that he had simply lacked foresight and that he shouldered the burden of the decision entirely. “I should have focused sooner and more effectively on the implications of being in the Cabinet versus myself as an individual doing my job,” he said at a news conference on Capitol Hill.
He cited concerns about Obama’s economic recovery plan and the administration’s intent to have the next census director report to senior White House officials as well as the commerce secretary.
The timing of Gregg’s communication with the White House about his decision was murky through much of the day, as the president’s aides scrambled to revise their sometimes conflicting statements about when Obama was notified.
Senior Obama officials portrayed the latest personnel debacle as reflecting badly on Gregg alone, insisting they are still on course to change the tone in Washington and implement the president’s policies. But aides acknowledged that it is now clear that Obama has not been rewarded for reaching across the aisle, and they said he feels no imperative to replace Gregg with another Republican.
Gregg’s confirmation would have given Obama more Republican Cabinet members than any Democratic president in history. Obama himself wasted no time making clear that Gregg was responsible for first seeking, and then rejecting, the position, despite efforts to accommodate him.
In his statement, Gregg said that “on issues such as the stimulus package and the Census there are irresolvable conflicts for me. Prior to accepting this post, we had discussed these and other potential differences, but unfortunately we did not adequately focus on these concerns.”
“I think what ended Judd Gregg’s hope of and desire of being the commerce secretary wasn’t anything any Democrat said or did, but what Republicans said and did,” a senior administration official said, speaking on the condition of anonymity. Democratic officials said they believed Gregg would have potentially faced rough questioning from Republicans during his confirmation hearings as they worked to find the GOP’s footing as an opposition party.
From The Washington Post:
Obama Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel told reporters this afternoon that the president is disappointed by Judd Gregg’s decision to withdraw but that there are no hard feelings toward the New Hampshire Republican.
“It’s better we find out now than later,” Emanuel told a small group of reporters who were originally scheduled to talk with him about the stimulus package.
“From our side it’s unfortunate, but there’s not hard feelings. It’s better that it happens now than when you had someone in the Cabinet,” he said.
Emanuel refused to speculate on Gregg’s reasoning in taking the Commerce job a week ago and then withdrawing today.
“I don’t want to play psychologist and get in his head,” Emanuel said. “If I said I wasn’t disappointed, I would lack credibility.”
Emanuel said that Gregg initially contacted him on Monday to say that he was getting cold feet about taking the job. That was less than a week after his selection was announced by Obama in the White House Grand Foyer.
“He must have been noodling this over the weekend,” Emanuel said of Gregg.
I can’t believe that the census or the stimulus or anything else was a big surprise to Gregg. Given the fact that he changed his mind about the Commerce post and his decision not to run for his Senate seat again, I’m thinking that maybe it had something to do with this (Washington Post, February 4):
A former top staff member to Sen. Judd Gregg (R-N.H.), who is President Obama’s choice to be commerce secretary, has come under the scrutiny of federal prosecutors investigating the Jack Abramoff gifts-for-favors scandal, according to public records and sources.
Kevin Koonce, 37, who served as Gregg’s legislative director and counsel for two years until 2004, is referenced, though not by name, in a plea deal outlined in court papers filed last week, according to people familiar with the circumstances of the events described in the documents.
In the filing, Koonce is “Staffer F,” said the sources, who spoke on condition of anonymity because the matter is still under investigation, and is described as allegedly accepting more than $10,000 in tickets, meals and drinks in exchange for official actions by the Senate office that were favorable to Abramoff’s lobbying clients.
Gregg is not named in the documents but congressional records show that Koonce worked for the New Hampshire Republican between 2002 and 2004, the period described in the court papers. The documents do not indicate or suggest that the senator had any knowledge of his staffer’s alleged illegal activities. The records, however, do allege that the Senate office was used to assist clients of Abramoff, the former Republican powerhouse lobbyist who is serving time in federal prison on corruption charges.