GOP leaders are warning President Obama’s possible appointment of GOP 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.
That Gregg has been under consideration for the job came to light Friday after Obama began placing calls to Senators to assess their reaction to the idea. Gregg confirmed he is under consideration for the post, describing himself as “honored.”
The New Hampshire senator, 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 reelection. 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 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.
Naming Gregg’s Senate replacement would fall to New Hampshire Gov. John Lynch, a Democrat. If Lynch were to name a Democrat to replace Gregg, Republicans would fall short of the votes needed to sustain a filibuster in the Senate. Ironically, 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. Although Gregg is widely respected, Sen. Jon Kyl, R-Ariz., called the move “sneaky.”
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.”
There has been speculation that Lynch might name a Republican to replace Gregg, in order to make the deal more palatable to Republicans. CQPolitics.com states that Gregg has made that a condition of his taking the job.
Lynch, however, could appoint a Republican caretaker considered unlikely to run for the job in 2010, such 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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