Gregg for Commerce? How It Can Work

Washington Matters

Gregg for Commerce? How It Can Work

Want a real breakthrough in bipartisanship? Get the Democrats and Republicans to work together to make it possible for veteran GOP Sen. Judd Gregg to be Obama's Commerce secretary without changing the balance of power in the Senate. Here's a modest proposal on how it can happen.

Roll Call broke the story yesterday that Obama is seriously considering Gregg, a Republican senator from New Hampshire. He's the ranking GOP member on the Budget Committee and lots of people think he'd be a good choice. It would fill the last Cabinet vacancy and further Obama's promise to include Republicans in his inner circle.

Gregg's office won't comment, a sure sign the story has some merit to it. But there's a political problem. New Hampshire has a Democratic governor, John Lynch, who would appoint a Democrat to replace Gregg, probably giving Democrats the magic 60 votes they need to block filibusters. That means Gregg's GOP colleagues will put enormous pressure on him to refuse the post.

But what if Lynch were to agree to appoint a Republican? It would be unheard of, but what a powerful move toward true bipartisanship. To avoid cherry picking a Republican-in-name-only, Lynch could ask the three senior Republicans in the legislature to give him a short list of acceptable nominees to choose from. It would have to include at least one person who comes close to Gregg's right of center views, not just hard-core conservatives. Lynch could even appoint former Sen. John Sununu, who is a relatively close ideological match but just lost a re-election bid in November, although some might say that it's a bad idea to give voters the man they refused to elect.


Another option would be to leave the seat vacant for a while. New Hampshire law calls for a special election at the earliest practical date. That generally means the next general election year to save the added cost. But in this case, the election could be scheduled early and to get around the need for candidates to spend months raising cash and crisscrossing the state, there could be agreement that the heart of the process would be a series of debates.  

What a change this would be. And let's face it, the last few months have shown us that having governors fill Senate openings leaves a lot to be desired.

What are the chances of this happening?  Close to zero. But wouldn't it be the sensible way to go?