GOP leaders are warning that President Barack Obama’s likely appointment of Republican Sen. Judd Gregg to serve as secretary of commerce could finally hand Democrats what they failed to win on Election Day: a 60-vote Senate majority that would render Republicans powerless to filibuster any legislation.
On Friday, reports surfaced that Gregg, of New Hampshire, is likely to be tapped by Obama this week for the job.
Gregg confirmed that he is under consideration for the post, describing himself as “honored.”
But the move has Republicans worried, as Gregg’s replacement will be made by New Hampshire’s Democratic governor, John Lynch.
Sen. Jon Kyl, R-Ariz., called Obama’s move “sneaky.” If a Democrat is appointed to fill Gregg’s slot, Republican senators will no longer have veto power over Democratic legislation.
This weekend, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., claimed that Gregg had negotiated a deal with Lynch that he “would be replaced by someone who would affiliate with other Republicans in the Senate.”
But The New York Times on Sunday had a starkly different take. The paper said that Gregg had only gotten a commitment from Lynch that he is “open to appointing a Republican to the seat.”
Gregg, 61, has received strong marks for his work on the Wall Street bailout package.
He is expected to face a costly battle to retain his Senate seat in 2010 if he decides to run for re-election. A three-term senator, he is the ranking member of the Senate Budget Committee.
The appointment of Gregg would fit in with Obama’s bipartisan charm offensive, which the media has applauded. But others find Obama’s choice curious, noting that Obama was not particularly close to Gregg while they served in the Senate together.
But if Gregg leaves the Senate to serve in Obama’s Cabinet, the number of GOP senators would drop to 40, giving Democrats the filibuster-proof majority they have coveted.
GOP Sen. Norm Coleman’s court battle against Al Franken in Minnesota remains undecided.
If Lynch does appoint a Democrat, Obama’s image as a bipartisan healer would receive a boost at the same time his party gained unfettered control of the Senate.
GOP senators reacted coolly to the prospect Gregg’s nomination.
Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, told Politico that Gregg’s relocation to the Cabinet would be a “great loss” to the Senate. Asked by Politico what could be done to persuade Gregg, Cornyn responded: “I would say whatever it is, name it.”
If Lynch appoints a Republican to fill Gregg’s seat, he would likely chose a Republican caretaker – someone unlikely to run for the job in 2010, such as former GOP Sen. Warren Rudman.
That would make the seat a prime target for Democrats, further complicating the electoral math for Republicans in a year that already has seen several Republicans announce their impending retirements.
White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs said Friday no final decision has been made on the commerce secretary job.
Democrats, not surprisingly, think the nomination is a good idea.
“He’s one of my best friends in the Senate, and he’s competent in doing anything he wants to do,” gushed House Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev.
The importance of Republicans’ role as the loyal opposition was recently highlighted in the battle over the trillion-dollar stimulus package, where not a single house Republican voted for it. Attention immediately focused on the Senate, where Democrats aim to persuade five to 10 Republicans to cross the aisle so they can maintain that the package received bipartisan political support.
Sen. Christopher Bond, R-Mo., told CQPolitics that losing Gregg “would be a real blow” to Republicans.
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