Republican Sen. Judd Gregg abruptly withdrew his nomination as President Barack Obama’s commerce secretary Thursday, telling Politico that he “couldn’t be Judd Gregg” and serve in the Cabinet.
The harsh response from a White House caught off guard: Gregg was the one who asked for the job – and he repeatedly promised that, “despite past disagreements about policies, he would support, embrace, and move forward with the president’s agenda.”
White House aides described themselves as “blindsided” by what White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs described as Gregg’s change of heart.”
…in months to come, Gregg will be worth celebrating. He is one of the smart guys on Capitol Hill, especially when it comes to fiscal policy. And he provides Obama with a third strong Republican Cabinet member, joining Defense Secretary Bob Gates and Ray LaHood at Transportation.
Gregg and North Dakota Sen. Kent Conrad, the top Republican and Democrat on the Senate Budget Committee, respectively, have been pushing for the creation of a bipartisan commission that would tackle the looming bankruptcy of the three big entitlement programs — Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid. Conrad told me that he deeply regrets the departure of his partner and does not know where to find a substitute.
But help may be on the way. Lamar Alexander of Tennessee, the No. 3 man in the Senate Republican leadership, quietly joined the Budget Committee last month. When I asked him why, he said it was to “help move the Gregg-Conrad commission proposal forward.”
Moreover, Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the Republican leader of the Senate, told the National Press Club that a bipartisan deal on entitlements is something he thinks can and should happen in this Congress.
Obama said the same thing when he visited The Post just before his inauguration, and now he has in Gregg someone who can help him lobby Congress to move the project forward.
A scorpion, being a very poor swimmer, asked a turtle to carry him on his back across a river. “Are you mad?” exclaimed the turtle. “You’ll sting me while I’m swimming and I’ll drown.”
“My dear turtle,” laughed the scorpion, “if I were to sting you, you would drown and I would go down with you. Now where is the logic in that?”
“You’re right!” cried the turtle. “Hop on!” The scorpion climbed aboard and halfway across the river gave the turtle a mighty sting. As they both sank to the bottom, the turtle resignedly said:
“Do you mind if I ask you something? You said there’d be no logic in your stinging me. Why did you do it?”
“It has nothing to do with logic,” the drowning scorpion sadly replied. “It’s just my character.”
It’s hard not to think that Gregg’s withdrawal, with the grumbling about the census and the stimulus, was not timed to cause the most damage possible to the Obama administration. Releasing the statement just as Obama took the stage in Peoria was clearly designed to undermine the President’s event. The fact he scheduled a presser only seems to confirm it. The classy exit would have been to wait til tomorrow afternoon to quietly bow out. Basically Gregg decided not just to politely decline, but rather to blow shit up and burn the bridge behind him. Do not think this portends good things for the wider political climate.