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Sen. Gregg Withdraws Commerce Nomination

ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

On his way to a Lincoln birthday dinner in Springfield, Illinois tonight, President Obama stopped off to visit a Caterpillar plant in Peoria. While he was there, the president's pick for Commerce secretary, Republican Senator Judd Gregg of New Hampshire, announced that he is withdrawing from consideration. NPR White House correspondent Scott Horsley joins us now. And Scott, this Gregg news is a shocker, what's going on?

SCOTT HORSLEY: Well, it's a shocker to us, Robert, perhaps not quite as much of a shocker to the White House. Senator Gregg says he informed the White House earlier this week that this was going to be his decision. But, you know, less than two weeks ago, he and the president were standing together and we were talking about another Republican in this bipartisan cabinet. Since then, Senator Gregg says he has come to realize it wasn't gonna be a good fit for him. He's been his own man as a senator, as a governor. And that he just wasn't ready to take his cue from someone else.

Senator JUDD GREGG (Republican, New Hampshire): I readily admit that this was a huge error on my part in seeing what is obvious, which is that for 30 years I've been myself and it's going to be - would be virtually impossible for me to step into a situation where I couldn't be myself.

HORSLEY: Now, why didn't he realize that sooner? He says he'll struggle with that. It's not entirely clear why he didn't recognize that.

SIEGEL: Yeah, in his statement, Scott, Senator Gregg cited a couple of differences - differences on the stimulus bill and differences over the handling of the census. How important do you think those differences were?

HORSLEY: He did single this out in a statement, but he said during a news conference at the Senate this afternoon, there wasn't really a pivotal issue. It wasn't about the White House exerting control over the census, which is a Commerce Department function. Certainly there were differences on the stimulus where he's a - very much a fiscal conservative and probably more in line with the Republican opposition in the Senate.

But he said it wasn't so much any one issue that side tracked this, but just sort of a recognition that he's someone who's used to calling his own shots and wasn't well-suited to being a team player. Now, the White House put out a statement saying that during the interview process, Judd Gregg had been very clear that he could set aside his own priorities in order to carry the president's agenda. And they said that they regret the senator's change of heart.

SIEGEL: So, there's bit of confusion here as to what actually happened in those discussions. And the former aide to Judd Gregg who was going to succeed him will not become a senator, but he will not run for reelections.

HORSLEY: He said it was unlikely that he would seek reelection in 2010.

SIEGEL: This news comes on a day when the White House had hoped to be celebrating an agreement between the House and the Senate on the stimulus bill. How close is that package that was agreed to yesterday? How close is it to what President Obama actually wanted?

HORSLEY: Well, it's a little bit smaller than the size that he had hoped for, and they've sort of downsized the number of jobs that they think, well, he saved or created. They had been talking in the four million range, now they're saying 3.5 million. They also downsized the president's signature tax cut for working individuals from 500 to $400. But he hadn't been terribly focused on the details of legislation. He was more interested in getting something through.

SIEGEL: And there seems to be some question today about what the stimulus would mean for Caterpillar, where the president spoke this afternoon.

HORSLEY: That's right. He was there to celebrate the deal on the stimulus and to talk about what it would mean for Caterpillar. Just last month that company had announced upwards of 20,000 lay-offs. And the president had been saying that some of those job cuts might be reversed once the infrastructure projects got under way. However, Caterpillar's chief executive showed a little dirt on that claim this afternoon.

He said it was going to take so long for the stimulus to have an impact on his company that Caterpillar would likely be looking at more lay-offs, before it was ready to begin hiring again.

SIEGEL: Thank you, Scott.

HORSLEY: My pleasure, Robert.

SIEGEL: White House correspondent Scott Horsley. And, again, the news of this afternoon, New Hampshire Republican Senator Judd Gregg has withdrawn from consideration as secretary of commerce. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Scott Horsley is NPR's Chief Economics Correspondent. He reports on ups and downs in the national economy as well as fault lines between booming and busting communities.
As special correspondent and guest host of NPR's news programs, Melissa Block brings her signature combination of warmth and incisive reporting. Her work over the decades has earned her journalism's highest honors, and has made her one of NPR's most familiar and beloved voices.