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News from the Votemaster

Obama May Name Gregg to the Cabinet Today

Numerous sources have stories on a potential appointment of Sen. Judd Gregg (R-NH) as Secretary of Commerce. This would be a hugely controversial appointment because with Al Franken likely to win his court case in Minnesota, Gregg's resignation from the Senate would mean that the Democratic governor of New Hampshire, John Lynch, would get to fill the 60th seat.

Political Wire is saying that the new senator will be J. Bonnie Newman, a Republican and former chief of staff to Gregg. She has had many jobs in government and academia and is currently executive dean of the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University. It is possible that Lynch extracted a promise from her not to run in 2010.

Other Republicans who have been named as possible replacements are former New Hampshire governor Walter Peterson (86) and former senator Warren Rudman (78). They are thought to be too old to engage in a bitter and probably losing election battle in 2010.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell appeared on Face the Nation yesterday and said that he wasn't worried because Gregg would never take the position if it would change the partisan balance of the Senate. There are rumors that Obama offered Sen. Olympia Snowe (R-ME) a cabinet slot and she declined for this reason.

So what is really going on here? It is hard to tell since the people who know aren't talking. Gregg is not some kind of commercial genius whose presence at Commerce will suddenly cause the economy to stand up and salute. So there are only two conceivable reasons Obama is even considering Gregg. The first (and minor) one is to show the nation how bipartisan he is. It is worth a little bit, but ultimately Obama will be judged by how well he does his job, not how many Republicans he put in his cabinet. If the economy is in deep recession in Nov. 2010, he won't get much mileage from saying: "Yes, the economy still sucks but that is because I appointed so many Republicans to the cabinet."

The only reason for a Gregg appointment that makes any sense is Obama's angling for the New Hampshire Senate seat. For him, the best case scenario is that Gov. Lynch simply appoints a Democrat, period. However, it is possible that Gregg told Obama and Lynch that he would not accept the appointment unless Lynch promises on a stack of Bibles to appoint a Republican. Hence the flurry of interest in Republicans who either promise not to run in 2010 or who are too weak to do so and win. In this case, Obama (and master strategists Rahm Emanuel and David Axelrod) may have decided that no Democrat could beat Gregg in 2010 but that either of New Hampshire's representatives, Carol Shea-Porter or Paul Hodes, could win an open seat, even after bloodying each other in a primary. If this is true, then Obama's plan is to put a third Republican in his Cabinet (after Robert Gates at Defense and Ray LaHood at Transportation) in order to greatly increase his chances of picking up the New Hampshire Senate seat in 2010. But only a handful of insiders really know and they are not talking. It is also possible that the deal fell through and Obama will name someone else to the Commerce post.

Feingold To Introduce Constitutional Amendment to Fill Senate Vacancies by Election

First we had controversy over a gubernatorial appointment to the Senate in Illinois, then in New York, now in New Hampshire. Sen. Russ Feingold (D-WI) thinks this way of filling Senate vacancies is archaic and wants a constitutional amendment that would strip governors of the appointment power and have all Senate vacancies filled by special elections, the same way House vacancies are filled. His amendment reads in part:

"When vacancies happen in the representation of any State in the Senate, the executive authority of such State shall issue writs of election to fill such vacancies."

The second sentence contains a grandfather clause allowing currently appointed senators to keep their jobs. To pass, the amendment must get a 2/3 vote in each chamber of Congress and then be ratified by 3/4 of the states within seven years. That is a steep hill to climb, but because it does not appear to favor one party over the other, it at least has a chance (unlike, say, statehood for D.C., which clearly favors the Democrats). Republican state legislators probably have noticed that the governors of Illinois, New York, and New Hampshire are all Democrats, and stripping them of appointment power is not something they view with horror. On the other hand, they are also aware that Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-TX) is likely to resign from the Senate soon to run for governor and they definitely like the idea of Gov. Rick Perry (R-TX) filling her seat. Still, all in all, the amendment is politically neutral.

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