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GOP senator may be choice for Commerce

Fri., Jan. 30, 2009

WASHINGTON – Sen. Judd Gregg, R-N.H., is under consideration for the Commerce secretary post in President Barack Obama’s Cabinet, raising the prospect that Democrats could gain a filibuster-proof majority of 60 seats in the Senate, according to two officials familiar with the selection process.

Gregg, who faces re-election in 2010, is one of several people under consideration for the remaining Cabinet post for which Obama has no nominee. New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson had been picked for the Commerce job, but he pulled out because of a grand-jury investigation into a state contract award.

Since then, Obama has been casting about for a replacement but has not settled on anyone, according to White House aides. Thursday, a Republican Senate aide and a Democratic official confirmed that Gregg had emerged as a candidate. Gregg’s office declined to comment.

From a political perspective, the selection could prove a gift to the Democrats. If Gregg were to resign from the Senate, his replacement would be chosen by New Hampshire’s Democratic governor, John Lynch. Were Lynch to give the seat to a fellow Democrat, that would raise the party’s count in the Senate to 59, including two independents who caucus with the Democrats. And if Minnesota Democrat Al Franken joined the Senate, the number would grow to 60 – the threshold needed to deprive Republicans of the ability to use filibusters to block legislation. The 2008 Senate race in Minnesota is still in dispute.

With a 60-vote majority in the Senate, coupled with a comfortable Democratic margin in the House, Obama could push through his agenda with a minimum of Republican resistance.

For that reason, some analysts were doubtful that Gregg would take the job. He would come under strong pressure from fellow Republicans to stay put.

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