US President Barack Obama is expected to pick Republican Senator Judd Gregg as his commerce secretary soon. But officials expect New Hampshire 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,” Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell told CBS’ Face the Nation.
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 of Representatives. 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 on 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 Senator Gregg, then Governor Lynch will have the sole responsibility for choosing his replacement,” the official said on the condition of anonymity to discuss internal deliberations.
Gregg has told colleagues that if he becomes the third Republican in Obama’s Cabinet, his replacement would affiliate with the GOP, denying Democrats’ total dominance, his party leader said on Sunday.
Obama’s Cabinet already has two Republicans: Secretary of Defense Robert Gates and former representative Ray LaHood, who was named transportation secretary.
If Gregg were nominated, he would be Obama’s second choice. A grand jury investigation over how state contracts were issued to political donors led New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson to withdraw from consideration.
Meanwhile, Obama’s huge stimulus package faced a Republican blockade in Congress yesterday as opposition senators clamor for a fundamental rethink to his plans for economic revival.
The Senate was poised to debate the US$819 billion bill after the House of Representatives passed the legislation last week without a single Republican vote in support.
“I think we’re going to be in for a tough several months. We’ve got to get this economic recovery plan passed. We’ve got to start putting people back to work,” Obama said on Sunday.
“I’ve done extraordinary outreach, I think, to Republicans because they have some good ideas, and I want to make sure that those ideas are incorporated,” he said.
Obama scheduled a new round of talks with congressional leaders for last night at the White House.
Obama told NBC that the severity of the situation required lawmakers to set aside “politics as usual” and work together on a bailout.
“Democracy is always a somewhat messy process. But the thing I want all of them to remember and the thing I’m thinking about every single day is the thousands of people who are being laid off of their jobs right now. They can’t afford politics as usual,” he said.