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Obama nominates Gregg for Commerce head

The president nominated a Republican to be Commerce secretary, a bipartisan gesture that the Democratic president stressed was necessary with the economy in a virtual free fall.
/ Source: The Associated Press

President Barack Obama nominated Republican Sen. Judd Gregg to be Commerce secretary on Tuesday, a bipartisan gesture that the Democratic president stressed was necessary with the economy in a virtual free fall.

"Clearly, Judd and I don't agree on every issue — most notably who should have won the election," Obama said in the White House's grand foyer with Gregg and Vice President Joe Biden at his side. "But we agree on the urgent need to get American businesses and families back on their feet ... And we know the only way to solve the great challenges of our time is to put aside stale ideology and petty partisanship, and embrace what works."

Gregg, in turn, praised Obama's $800 billion-plus proposal to stabilize the economic slide and pull the country out of recession as an "extraordinarily bold, aggressive, effective and comprehensive plan."

"This is not a time for partisanship," the New Hampshire senator said. "This is not a time when we should stand in our ideological corners and shout at each other. This is a time to govern and govern well."

If confirmed by the Senate, Gregg would take over a sprawling Commerce Department tasked not just with job creation, but also with conducting the 2010 Census. The department includes the Patent and Trademark Office, and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, whose duties include weather forecasting and climate research.

Gregg would be the third Republican in Obama's Cabinet, joining Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood.

The president initially had tapped Bill Richardson for the Commerce job, but the New Mexico governor withdrew his nomination amid a grand jury investigation into a state contract awarded to his political donors.

After a monthlong search, Obama settled on the 61-year-old Gregg, a former New Hampshire governor who previously served in the House. Gregg has been in the Senate since 1993 and currently serves as the top Republican on the Senate Budget Committee.

Gregg said in a conference call with reporters he will remain in the Senate until he is confirmed.

Financial records show that in 2007, Gregg was worth between $3.1 million and $10.5 million, not out of line with others in the Senate. He owns stock in blue chip companies such as Verizon, Exxon, drugmaker Bristol Myers, General Electric, Citicorp, Microsoft, Heinz, Capital One and Bank of America. Some of his larger assets include real estate in New Hampshire, Florida, New York and Massachusetts. He also owns stakes in several software makers. And he's a trustee of the Hugh Gregg Family Foundation, a charitable trust.

New Hampshire Gov. John Lynch, a Democrat, has agreed — in a deal struck with Gregg — to name a Republican to fill the Senate seat.

Democratic officials say Lynch intends to select Bonnie Newman, Gregg's former chief of staff, and that she intends to step down rather than run in 2010 for a full term. That would create the possibility of a highly competitive race for a seat that long has been in Republican hands.

On Tuesday, White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said Lynch called the White House to "voice his support" for Gregg after reports surfaced that the senator was under consideration. But Gibbs also denied that the White House had anything to do with the selection of Obama's successor. "This White House is not involved with picking who will be the next senator" or the political party of any successor, Gibbs said.

But, he added: "I don't know of any more calls than what I talked about."

Choosing a Democrat would have expanded the party's majority in the Senate, moving it closer to a filibuster-proof majority. Gregg had indicated he wouldn't leave the Senate if his departure disrupted the balance of power.

The White House's exact role in the deal that led to Gregg's nomination is unclear.

In a statement, Lynch said the White House was at least directly aware that a deal had been made: Gregg would only become Commerce secretary if he was replaced by a Republican in the Senate.