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Gregg Out

The New Hampshire GOP Senator discovers that he has substantive disagreements with Obama after all:

I want to thank the President for nominating me to serve in his Cabinet as Secretary of Commerce. This was a great honor, and I had felt that I could bring some views and ideas that would assist him in governing during this difficult time. I especially admire his willingness to reach across the aisle.

However, it has become apparent during this process that this will not work for me as I have found 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. We are functioning from a different set of views on many critical items of policy.

Obviously the President requires a team that is fully supportive of all his initiatives.

Gregg may not have anticipated the dust-up that emerged in recent days over the volatile partisan issue of the Census. The director of the Census--whose sampling methods have a big influence on population counts and hence representation in Congress--traditionally reports to the Commerce Secretary. But Gregg would have lost that authority, and the Census director was going to report directly to the White House. I don't know whether that was the decisive issue, but it seemed like an early statement of distrust and certainly had Gregg's erstwhile conservative allies up in arms. 

That said, the statement from White House press secretary Robert Gibbs suggests that economic policy was the real issue (and takes care to note that this was Gregg's idea in the first place):

Senator Gregg reached out to the President and offered his name for Secretary of Commerce.  He was very clear throughout the interviewing process that despite past disagreements about policies, he would support, embrace, and move forward with the President’s agenda.  Once it became clear after his nomination that Senator Gregg was not going to be supporting some of President Obama’s key economic priorities, it became necessary for Senator Gregg and the Obama administration to part ways.  We regret that he has had a change of heart.

Richardson, Daschle, Killefer, Zinni, Solis, Gregg -- all these personnel snafus are a far cry from Obama's Swiss-watch campaign. But I just find it hard to get too worked up over them. By and large Obama filled his key cabinet posts quickly and with solid people. And the Commerce job is something of a joke, really. Moreover, the sometimes troubled optics of the transition just pale in comparison to the massive economic and foreign policy problems Obama is dealing with.

It's true that this doesn't advance Obama's effort to create an air of bipartisanship in Washington. But I'd say the stimulus debate pretty much killed that already anyhow. (Also, remember that the man who launched his campaign in opposition to hawkish foreign policy has a Republican defense secretary. Funny how quickly we've gotten used to that notion.) 

Update: Gregg downplays the significance of the Census flap.

--Michael Crowley