WASHINGTON – It was just Monday when President Barack Obama told a prime-time news conference that appointing three Republicans to his Cabinet reflected an “unprecedented” commitment to bipartisanship.
But by Thursday, with the abrupt withdrawal by Republican Sen. Judd Gregg from his nomination to be commerce secretary, the partisan divide in Washington looked as wide as ever, and Obama had suffered another setback in building his administration.
Gregg, of New Hampshire, cited “irresolvable conflicts” with the Obama administration over its economic stimulus plan and the 2010 U.S. census, which in recent days had become the focus of a partisan dispute over who should control the program.
The senator said he “admired” Obama’s efforts at bipartisan bridge-building. But he had decided that, as a conservative, joining the Democratic administration was a “bridge too far.”
“It just became clear to me that it would be very difficult, day in and day out, to serve in this Cabinet or any Cabinet for that matter and be part of the team and not be able to be 100 percent with the team, 110 percent with the team,” Gregg told a news conference.
Obama, speaking to reporters aboard Air Force One on a swing through Illinois, said the developments did not spell the end of his efforts at reaching out to Republicans. “I am going to keep on working at this,” he said. Americans are “desperate” for politicians to find common ground, he said.
Gregg described the dispute over the census, which is directed by the Commerce Department, as only a “slight issue.” But his withdrawal came as House Republicans held a press conference to accuse the White House of politicizing the program by shifting control to White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel, known as a sharp Democratic partisan. The census is politically sensitive because it forms the basis of redrawing congressional and legislative district boundaries every 10 years.