Obama taps Gregg as commerce secretary

by Rebecca Cress | 2/4/09 3:10am

President Barack Obama nominated Sen. Judd Gregg, R-N.H., to serve as commerce secretary on Tuesday. Following the nomination, Gov. John Lynch, D-N.H., announced that he had selected Republican J. Bonnie Newman to replace Gregg in the Senate.

If Lynch had appointed a Democrat, it could have given the Democratic party a filibuster-proof majority in the Senate, which would include two independents who caucus with the party.

Gregg is known for his "strict fiscal discipline," Obama said in his announcement, calling Gregg "a master of reaching across the aisle to get things done." Gregg had served as the senior Republican on the Senate Budget Committee.

Gregg said in a press conference that he felt obligated to accept the nomination because of the current economic crisis.

"This is not a time when we should stand in our ideological corners and shout at each other," he said. "This is a time to govern and govern well."

As a senator, Gregg voted to abolish the Commerce Department in 1995, several media outlets have reported.

Gregg's selection reflects Obama's strategy of trying to appear bipartisan, Dartmouth government professor Joseph Bafumi said. Obama was probably not attempting to add another Democrat to the Senate in choosing Gregg for commerce secretary, he added.

David Imamura '10, president of the College Democrats, said he understands both Obama's and Lynch's decisions.

"I can't say I'm too angry or surprised that this happened," he said.

Lynch made a wise political move in selecting Newman to replace Gregg, Bafumi said, explaining that Newman will caucus with the Republicans, but is moderate and may occasionally vote with the Democrats.

"She's a good compromise," Bafumi said.

Newman will not run for reelection in 2010, Lynch said on Tuesday, addressing concerns that challengers for the seat would face a Republican incumbent.

Newman was Gregg's chief of staff when he served in the House of Representatives in the 1980s, the Union Leader reported. She also served as assistant commerce secretary for former President Ronald Reagan and assistant to the president for management and administration under former President George H.W. Bush. Newman went on to serve as executive dean at the Harvard University's Kennedy School of Government from 2000 to 2005, and later as interim president of the University of New Hampshire during the 2006-2007 academic year.

Bafumi noted that Newman also began a "Republicans for Lynch" committee. The committee co-chair, former Gov. Walter Peterson '47, R-N.H., was also considered for Gregg's Senate seat.

Some political analysts have suggested that Reps. Carol Shea Porter, D-N.H., and Paul Hodes '72, D-N.H., are likely candidates in 2010. Former Sen. John Sununu, R-N.H., may be a contender in that election as well.

Reports in the Union Leader that Rep. Paul Hodes '72, D-N.H., intends to run for the Senate in 2010 "are not incorrect," a source close to Hodes said.

"Senator Gregg has a long history of service to New Hampshire, and the appointment today is good news for the state of New Hampshire, as we now can expect to have a strong advocate for our state in the cabinet," Hodes said in a statement on Tuesday.

Calls to Gregg's office were not returned by press time. Newman was unavailable for comment by press time.

Gregg, who was elected to the House of Representatives in 1981, served as governor of New Hampshire from 1989 to 1993, and was then elected to the Senate. Gregg and his wife, Kathleen, have three children, all of whom attended Dartmouth: Molly Gregg '00, Sarah Gregg '02 and Joshua Gregg '06. Gregg received an honorary degree from Dartmouth in 2006.