New Hampshire Senator Judd Gregg has withdrawn his nomination to serve as President Obama's Commerce Secretary. Gregg cited "irresolvable conflicts" involving the stimulus package and the Census.
Gregg held a press conference Thursday night to announce his withdrawal. The move has sparked new concerns about Obama's vetting process, as sources close to the White House say the president's team was not fully aware of Gregg's position on the census prior to his being nominated to the Commerce post.
White House officials were "blindsided" by the news, Politico reports.
"I couldn't be Judd Gregg and serve in the Cabinet. I should have faced up to the reality of that earlier," Gregg said. "I've been my own person and I began to wonder if I could be an effective team player. The president deserves someone who can block for his policies. As a practical matter I can contribute to his agenda better--where we agree--as a senator and I hope to do that."
"The fault lies with me," Gregg said in an interview with Politico, refusing to discuss any conversations he has had with Obama himself. Asked if he felt the decision would be an embarrassment for the president, Gregg said, "I may have embarrassed myself but hopefully not him."
Obama said that he was surprised by Gregg's withdrawal in an interview with the State Journal-Register:
"It comes as something of a surprise, because the truth, you know, Mr. Gregg approached us with interest and seemed enthusiastic.'
"But ultimately, I think, we're going to just keep on making efforts to build the kind of bipartisan concensus around important issues that I think the American people are looking for."
LISTEN to Obama's comments to the State Journal-Register here.
NBC News' John Yang added that when he contacted the White House Press Office, Gregg's withdrawal "was news to them" and they seemed "a little surprised by this ... You have to wonder how much advance warning" they had.
In a statement, White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs confirmed that Gregg's lack of support on key policies made his nomination untenable.
"Senator Gregg reached out to the President and offered his name for Secretary of Commerce. He was very clear throughout the interviewing process that despite past disagreements about policies, he would support, embrace, and move forward with the President's agenda. Once it became clear after his nomination that Senator Gregg was not going to be supporting some of President Obama's key economic priorities, it became necessary for Senator Gregg and the Obama administration to part ways. We regret that he has had a change of heart."
Republican Congressional leaders were pleased with Gregg's withdrawal.
The Hill reports:
Asked for his reaction to Gregg's withdrawal as a candidate, House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) responded simply: "Wonderful."
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell was equally gleeful, telling Politico: "It's great to have him back."
Earlier on Thursday, Republicans criticized the White House for taking some control of the Census away from the Commerce Secretary in light of concerns about Gregg from black and Latino elected officials.
"If President Obama doesn't trust Sen. Gregg to oversee a fair and accurate census, he should withdraw the nomination," said GOP Rep. Mike Pence of Indiana.
As chairman of the Senate panel overseeing the Census Bureau budget, Gregg frequently sought to cut funding that critics believe led to an undercounting of minorities.
Gregg was also under fire for refusing to vote on the stimulus package, leaving both voters at home and officials in Washington confused about his stance.
New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson withdrew several weeks ago from consideration for the same post in the wake of a grand jury investigation into into how one of his political donors landed a lucrative state contract. He has not been implicated personally in the scandal.
Gregg's full statement:
I want to thank the President for nominating me to serve in his Cabinet as Secretary of Commerce. This was a great honor, and I had felt that I could bring some views and ideas that would assist him in governing during this difficult time. I especially admire his willingness to reach across the aisle.
However, it has become apparent during this process that this will not work for me as I have found that on issues such as the stimulus package and the Census there are irresolvable conflicts for me. Prior to accepting this post, we had discussed these and other potential differences, but unfortunately we did not adequately focus on these concerns. We are functioning from a different set of views on many critical items of policy.
Obviously the President requires a team that is fully supportive of all his initiatives.
I greatly admire President Obama and know our country will benefit from his leadership, but at this time I must withdraw my name from consideration for this position.
As we move forward, I expect there will be many issues and initiatives where I can and will work to assure the success of the President's proposals. This will certainly be a goal of mine.
Kathy and I also want to specifically thank Governor Lynch and Bonnie Newman for their friendship and assistance during this period. In addition we wish to thank all the people, especially in New Hampshire, who have been so kind and generous in their supportive comments.
As a further matter of clarification, nothing about the vetting process played any role in this decision. I will continue to represent the people of New Hampshire in the United States Senate.