What was Gregg thinking?

WHAT WAS GREGG THINKING?…. Judd Gregg’s withdrawal from cabinet consideration has been described as another embarrassment for the Obama administration, but given what we know, the announcement makes the senator look a whole lot worse than the president.

Indeed, the whole thing still seems quite odd a day later. Two weeks ago, Judd Gregg really wanted to be a U.S. senator. Last week, Gregg really wanted to be the Secretary of Commerce. And this week, Gregg really wants to be neither. Something doesn’t add up here.

To his credit, the New Hampshire Republican has been fairly candid about accepting responsibility for what transpired. “It was my mistake, obviously, to say yes,” Gregg told reporters. He added, “I should have focused sooner and more effectively on the implications of being in the Cabinet versus myself as an individual doing my job.”

But what remains unclear is what prompted Gregg to back away from a job he’d asked for just last week. The various explanations don’t stand up well to scrutiny.

* It was the stimulus package: Key among Gregg’s “irresolvable conflicts” with President Obama was the White House’s recovery initiative, which Gregg apparently can’t support. But this doesn’t make sense — the stimulus package was already under consideration on the Hill when Gregg sought and accepted the cabinet invitation. Indeed, Gregg had publicly defended the president’s policy. If the plan was a deal-breaker, he wouldn’t have agreed to the job in the first place.

* It was the census policy: This isn’t compelling either. Gregg told reporters yesterday that the census “was so insignificant that he would not even address it,” calling it a “slight” matter. The census hullabaloo was something of a canard anyway.

* It was pressure from the GOP: Gregg was, to be sure, pressured by Republicans on the Hill not to help President Obama, and pressured even more from GOP activists in New Hampshire, who saw his cabinet move as a betrayal. But with Gregg retiring in 2010 anyway — he said yesterday he would not seek re-election next year — why would partisan pressure affect him so strongly?

* It was the result of bad vetting: Some in the media have begun blaming the White House for the breakdown, describing it as another problem with the vetting process. This also doesn’t make sense — there’s no evidence that Gregg’s departure has anything to do with new information that vetters had missed.

And what does that leave us with? I suppose it’s possible that Gregg’s explanation — he just changed his mind — was sincere. Gregg sought the job, accepted the job, and prepared to do the job, before it suddenly dawned on him that he didn’t want the job.

This might be true, but I’m skeptical. A three-term senator and two-term governor – who’s held elected office for more than three decades — was prepared to give up his career to accept a cabinet position, but he just didn’t think it through? The center-right Republican wanted to work for a center-left Democrat until it occurred to him, “Oh, wait, I don’t actually agree with that guy”?

It seems like there’s part of this story we do not yet know.

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