Republican Sen. Judd Gregg of New Hampshire abruptly withdrew his nomination as Commerce secretary Thursday, the third Cabinet-level pick scuttled and the latest political stumbling block in Barack Obama’s young presidency.
“I said yes. That was my mistake,” Gregg told reporters at a Capitol Hill news conference. He said he’d always been a strong fiscal conservative. “It really wasn’t a good pick.”
The about-face left Obama without a full team to lead the government.
Obama’s first choice for Commerce secretary, New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson, took his name out of consideration amid a federal investigation dealing with state contracts in New Mexico.
Citing tax problems, Tom Daschle backed out as secretary of Health and Human Services and Nancy Killefer, whose job is not Cabinet level, withdrew as the government’s first chief performance officer. Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner was confirmed despite revelations that he had not paid some of his taxes on time.
Gregg was one of three Republicans Obama had put in his Cabinet to fulfill his campaign pledge that he would be an agent of bipartisan change.
Gregg gave Obama credit for reaching out to him. But, he cited “irresolvable conflicts” with Obama’s handling of the economic stimulus and 2010 census.
In an interview with The Associated Press, Gregg said, “For 30 years, I’ve been my own person in charge of my own views, and I guess I hadn’t really focused on the job of working for somebody else and carrying their views, and so this is basically where it came out.”
The White House quickly issued a statement saying that Gregg was the one who originally offered his name for the job. Once it became clear he could not support all of the president’s agenda, “it became necessary for Senator Gregg and the Obama administration to part ways,” said presidential press secretary Robert Gibbs.
Gregg, 61, said he informed the White House “fairly early in the week” about his decision.