CENSUS WON’T GO TO GREGG…. The specific day-to-day responsibilities of the Commerce Secretary are a little hazy, but one of the key tasks is overseeing the census. With Republican Judd Gregg poised to take the job, it’s the census, more than anything else, that’s caused the most heartburn among Democrats.

As Matt Cooper reported on Tuesday, “The methods of Census collection are often in dispute. In 2000 Democrats pushed for statistical sampling to achieve a better count of underrepresented groups — the homeless, transient poor, and so on. They lost. It’s not clear that there will be as much controversy in 2010 when the next Census will take place but by putting Gregg at the Commerce Department — which oversees the Bureau of the Census — Obama has handed a potentially very politically sensitive position to a Republican.”

Fortunately, he didn’t. CQ‘s Jonathan Allen has the story.

The director of the Census Bureau will report directly to the White House and not the secretary of Commerce, according to a senior White House official.

The decision came after black and Hispanic leaders raised questions about Commerce Secretary nominee Judd Gregg’s commitment to funding the census.

Gregg, New Hampshire’s senior senator, voted in committee and on the floor for a 1995 Republican budget that envisioned the elimination of the Commerce Department. Of even more concern to black and Hispanic leaders, Gregg battled President Clinton over a request for “emergency” funding for the 2000 census.

The prospect of Gregg overseeing the census drew intense criticism this week from the Congressional Black Caucus and the National Association of Latino Elected Officials, among others. Taking the census out of Gregg’s hands should go a long way in assuaging concerns.

It’s also evidence that the White House will take notice when a decision draws fire from Obama’s base.

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Follow Steve on Twitter @stevebenen. Steve Benen is a producer at MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show. He was the principal contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal blog from August 2008 until January 2012.