WASHINGTON – President Barack Obama is expected to pick a Republican senator, Judd Gregg of New Hampshire, as his commerce secretary soon. But officials expect the state’s Democratic governor, John Lynch, to fill Gregg’s Senate seat with another Republican.
“In other words, whoever is appointed to replace him would caucus with Senate Republicans, so I think it would have no impact on the balance of power in the Senate,” Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the Senate’s minority leader, told “Face the Nation” on CBS.
If a Republican is appointed, the Democrats will be no closer to their goal of holding 60 Senate seats, enough to cut off Republican filibusters if all Democrats vote together. They now have 56 votes. Two independents usually vote with the Democrats, giving them 58 votes. The outcome in a still-disputed Senate election in Minnesota could bring that to 59 votes.
The Republican expected to get the seat until a new election is held in two years is Bonnie Newman, who served as Gregg’s chief of staff when Gregg was in the House. She is a veteran of the Reagan White House. Under the deal that has been worked out, she will not run in the 2010 election.
The move would allow Gregg to join the Cabinet without giving Democrats unchecked power in Congress. It also would spare him a difficult re-election bid.
An administration official said Sunday evening that the White House would worry about the Cabinet pick, not the politics.
“The president will choose the best person for the job, and if it’s Sen. Gregg, then Gov. Lynch will have the sole responsibility for choosing his replacement,” the official said on the condition of anonymity to discuss internal deliberations.
Lynch’s spokesman, Colin Manning, declined comment on any agreement among the players, saying only “this situation is still between the White House and Sen. Gregg.”
Gregg spokeswoman Laena Fallon had no comment on McConnell’s statement.
Newman’s name has climbed to the top of Lynch’s short list of names, officials said. She served in the administrations of both Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush. She was Gregg’s top aide when he was in the U.S. House, served as a Harvard dean and was one of Lynch’s first Republican supporters.
Many officials in New Hampshire and Washington expect Lynch to name a Republican or an independent as Gregg’s successor. Democratic leaders have warned supporters in private that Gregg’s departure would not automatically mean a Democratic replacement.