Gregg’s out

GREGG’S OUT…. I’m a little surprised that Judd Gregg is withdrawing, but not at all disappointed.

New Hampshire Republican Sen. Judd Gregg has withdrawn his name from consideration as President Barack Obama’s Commerce Secretary, a major blow to an Administration seeking to put a series of Cabinet problems behind it.

“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,” Gregg said in a statement to be released by his office. “Prior to accepting this post, we had discussed these and other potential differences, but unfortunately we did not adequately focus on these concerns.”

In his full statement, Gregg added that the president “requires a team that is fully supportive of all his initiatives.” Well, yes, I suppose that’s true. He added, “As a further matter of clarification, nothing about the vetting process played any role in this decision. I will continue to represent the people of New Hampshire in the United States Senate.” (In other words, “Don’t worry, I paid all my taxes.”)

Gregg’s announcement is a little peculiar, at least to the extent that he’s withdrawing over “potential differences” on issues that had been raised “prior to” his accepting the position. In context, Gregg seems to be saying he no longer wants to serve in Obama’s cabinet because he opposes the stimulus bill and expected to oversee the 2010 census. But aren’t these the kind of issues Gregg would have wanted to resolve before accepting the nomination? If the areas of “irresolvable conflicts” came up in discussions before the invitation was extended, and Gregg got an unsatisfactory response, why offer to serve?

It seems rather odd.

Of course, Gregg was Obama’s second nominee for the post, following Bill Richardson’s withdrawal, which makes today’s announcement slightly more embarrassing. At this point, it’s a good thing no one seems to know what the Commerce Secretary does, or these troubles might start to be consequential.

In terms of practical consequences, not much will change as a result of today’s news. Gregg never gave up his Senate seat, so he’ll just go right back to work. Bonnie Newman, who had been named as Gregg’s replacement in the chamber, will start unpacking. Presumably, the Obama administration officials who search for cabinet secretaries will go back to the file labeled “Plan C.”

As for the political dynamic, I suppose the president will lose a talking point about having three Republicans in his cabinet, but Gregg’s withdrawal nevertheless strikes me as an encouraging development for everyone involved. The New Hampshire senator, after all, is a center-right lawmaker who endorsed Bush’s economic policies for eight years. It wasn’t at all clear how, or whether, he could help the White House’s agenda in any way.

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Steve Benen

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.