Republican Senator Judd Gregg withdraws as nominee for Commerce, stating ‘irresolvable conflicts’
WASHINGTON - Saying, "I made a mistake," Republican Sen. Judd Gregg of New Hampshire abruptly withdrew as commerce secretary nominee on Thursday and drew a testy reaction from the White House, suddenly coping with the third Cabinet withdrawal of Barack Obama's young presidency. Gregg cited "irresolvable conflicts" with Obama's handling of the economic stimulus and 2010 census in a statement released without warning by his Senate office.
Later, at a news conference in the Capitol, he sounded more contrite.
"The president asked me to do it," he said of the job offer. "I said, 'Yes.' That was my mistake."
Obama offers different count
Obama offered a somewhat different account from Gregg.
"It comes as something of a surprise, because the truth, you know, Mr. Gregg approached us with interest and seemed enthusiastic," Obama said in an interview with the Springfield (Ill.) Journal-Register. "But ultimately, I think, we're going to just keep on making efforts to build the kind of bipartisan consensus around important issues that I think the American people are looking for."
White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said once it became clear Gregg was not going to support some of Obama's top economic priorities, it became necessary for Gregg and the administration "to part ways," Gibbs said. "We regret that he has had a change of heart."
Gregg said he'd always been a strong fiscal conservative. "It really wasn't a good pick." When the Senate voted on the president's massive stimulus plan earlier this week, Gregg did not vote. The bill passed with all Democratic votes and just three Republican votes.
Latest setback for Cabinet
The unexpected withdrawal marked the latest setback for Obama in his attempt to build a Cabinet. It came as the new president expended political capital in Washington — and around the country — for his economic package.
Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner was confirmed despite revelations that he had not paid some of his taxes on time, and former Senate Democratic Leader Tom Daschle withdrew as nominee as health and human services secretary in a tax controversy.
New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson of New Mexico was Obama's first choice as Commerce Secretary. He withdrew several weeks ago following disclosure that a grand jury is investigating allegations of wrongdoing in the awarding of contracts in his state. Richardson has not been implicated personally.
Gregg was one of three Republicans Obama had put in his Cabinet to emphasize his campaign pledge that he would be an agent of bipartisan change.
White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel said Obama and Gregg met in the Oval Office on Wednesday and there were no hard feelings.
"It's better we figured this out now than later," Emanuel said. "It's unfortunate. ... There's a disappointment."
'I've been my own person'
In an interview with The Associated Press, Gregg said, "For 30 years, I've been my own person in charge of my own views, and I guess I hadn't really focused on the job of working for somebody else and carrying their views, and so this is basically where it came out."
Gregg, 61, said he informed the White House "fairly early in the week" about his decision. He said he changed his mind after realizing he wasn't ready to "trim my sails" to be a part of Obama's team.
"I just sensed that I was not going to be good at being anything other than myself," he said.
The New Hampshire senator also said he would probably not run for a new term in 2010.
Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va., chairman of the Senate Commerce Committee, said he wished Gregg "had thought through the implications of his nomination more thoroughly before accepting this post."
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., called Gregg a friend and said, "I respect his decision."