WASHINGTON – In an unusual arrangement, Republican Sen. Judd Gregg agreed Tuesday to join the Obama administration as commerce secretary after the Democratic governor of New Hampshire agreed to appoint another Republican to replace him in the Senate.
Gov. John Lynch tapped former GOP staffer Bonnie Newman, citing a need for bipartisanship during “an unprecedented national economic crisis.”
Gregg thanked Lynch “for his extraordinary courtesy and political courage in making this decision.”
Newman’s appointment means Republicans still have 41 Senate seats, enough to filibuster Democratic legislation.
Newman pledged not to run for the Senate when Gregg’s term ends in 2010. “This assignment is not about politics and business as usual,” said Newman, former interim president of the University of New Hampshire. “It is about governing.”
If confirmed by the Senate, Gregg will be the third Republican in President Obama’s Cabinet, joining Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood.
In the past month, Gregg voted against two Obama-backed bills, an expansion of the Children’s Health Insurance Program and a law making it easier to sue for pay discrimination. In 1995, Gregg voted to abolish the very Commerce Department he now plans to lead.
“Clearly, Judd and I don’t agree on every issue, most notably who should have won the election,” Obama joked during a brief White House ceremony. “But we agree on the urgent need to get American businesses and families back on their feet.”
Obama cited Gregg’s qualifications as a businessman, governor, House member and senator for 16 years. As commerce secretary, Gregg would be responsible for promoting American business, particularly overseas. “He’s seen from all angles what makes our economy,” Obama said.