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Obama Leans Toward GOP's Gregg For Commerce

ALEX COHEN, host:

If Lehman Brothers hiring new employees sounds odd, how about this? Barack Obama is picking a Republican to fill the post of Commerce secretary. Here to chat about that and filling the last of the new cabinet posts is NPR's senior Washington editor Ron Elving. Hi, Ron.

RON ELVING: Good to be with you, Alex.

COHEN: This choice for Commerce secretary, Judd Greg, is a Republican. That's a bit of a surprise coming from a Democrat, no?

ELVING: A bit of a surprise, although Barack Obama has said he wants to have Republicans in his cabinet, and he's got Bob Gates at Defense, and he's got Ray Lahood already at Transportation. But here comes Judd Greg. He is a three-term senator. He's 62 a little later on this month. He is seen as a New England Republican who can work with Democrats, and he's done that, both as the ranking member on budget and earlier when he worked with Ted Kennedy on the Health Committee.

And you know, he was also the guy they chose to sub for Al Gore when George W. Bush was practicing his debates in 2000 because he reminded a lot of Republicans of Al Gore in his personal demeanor.

COHEN: Might this be part of the president's effort to get more Republican votes for his economic stimulus package in the Senate than he did in the House where he received none?

ELVING: Absolutely zero. Exactly. Yes, in a way, its part of his effort to reach out to Republicans generally, get more centrist Republicans at least to at least think about voting for the stimulus package and have something to say about it in a bargain. But you know, it was also seen as an attempt to get more votes for Democrats, generally, in the Senate by getting one Republican out and having the Democratic governor of New Hampshire appoint a Democrat to take his place.

Now we're told that's not what's at foot here, because the Democratic Governor John Lynch has apparently agreed not to install a Democrat in Judd Gregg's place.

COHEN: Later today, the Senate will be voting on the nomination of Eric Holder to be attorney general. Originally, that was thought to be one of the toughest confirmation fights but didn't quite turn out that way. What happened?

ELVING: Well, things got smoother for Eric Holder. Concern about his role in the controversial pardon back in the Clinton Administration eight years ago has abated as the process has gone on. There were only two votes against him on committee. That's out of 19 votes. And at the same time, and maybe more important, things got rougher for some other cabinet appointees who were supposed to have smooth sailing, for instance, Bill Richardson at Commerce. He withdrew his nomination and concern about an investigation back in New Mexico, Tim Geitner at Treasury got in trouble for delayed payment of taxes. He eventually got through, but there were 34 votes against him.

And now, Tom Daschle, the former Senate Majority Leader, is in trouble for much grander scale failure to pay taxes in a timely manner, and he was supposed to be the secretary of Health and Human Services. And now, that's somewhat in doubt.

COHEN: And where does that stand? Today, President Obama said he still supports Daschle. So what happens from here?

ELVING: No question the White House is standing behind him, but there is a meeting later today of the Senate Finance Committee, a closed-door meeting, where we're expecting Tom Daschle to come in and try to answer everybody's questions about the income that he had not reported and whether or not it was really his fault and whether or not he has done everything he needs to do to reassure everyone that he can take this job with no cloud over his head.

COHEN: Ron, when we check in with you again next Monday, which of the remaining cabinet spots do you think might still be a problem?

ELVING: My guess is they're all going to be either filled or on their way to being filled by one week from today.

COHEN: NPR senior Washington editor, Ron Elving. Thanks.

ELVING: Thank you, Alex. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Ron Elving is Senior Editor and Correspondent on the Washington Desk for NPR News, where he is frequently heard as a news analyst and writes regularly for NPR.org.
Alex Cohen
Alex Cohen is the reporter for NPR's fastest-growing daily news program, Day to Day where she has covered everything from homicides in New Orleans to the controversies swirling around the frosty dessert known as Pinkberry.