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Gregg, Daschle, Killefer (AP Photos)

One in, two out

Politics | President Obama's bipartisan pick of Judd Gregg as Commerce secretary was overshadowed by the withdrawals of Tom Daschle and Nancy Killefer

WASHINGTON-President Obama on Tuesday gained one but lost two potential top advisors.

He returned to the Senate ranks to select a Commerce secretary while his Health and Human Services secretary designee and his chief performance officer nominee both withdrew their names from consideration amid tax irregularities.

In naming his Commerce secretary, Obama added one more Republican to his Cabinet when he nominated New Hampshire Sen. Judd Gregg.

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But a few hours later this nomination was overshadowed by the withdrawal of former Sen. Tom Daschle as the Health and Human Services secretary nominee. Daschle removed his name from consideration as his Senate hearings continued to be held up in the face of late tax payments totaling more than $128,000.

Nancy Killefer also stepped aside from her nomination to be the White House's first chief performance officer. The Associated Press had disclosed that the District of Columbia had filed a $946.69 tax lien on her home for failure to pay unemployment compensation tax on household help.

In a brief letter to Obama, the 55-year-old executive with the McKinsey & Co. consulting firm said that her tax issues would create unnecessary "distraction and delay" amid the nation's economic problems.

Killefer is the third Obama nominee to be dogged by tax issues. The Senate last week confirmed Timothy Geithner as Treasury secretary despite his late payment of $34,000 in taxes.

Meanwhile Eric Holder was sworn in as the nation's first African- American attorney general Tuesday, less than 24 hours after being confirmed in the Senate by a 75-21 vote, with Republican senators accounting for all the opposition.

After being sworn in, Holder promised to leave behind policies of the Bush administration and remake the department "into what it once was and what is always should be."

In announcing the Gregg nomination at the White House, Obama acknowledged that he does not agree on every issue with the Republican senator. But he added both men are on the same page when it comes to the "urgent need to get American businesses and families back on their feet."

"We see eye to eye on conducting the nation's business in a responsible, transparent, and accountable manner," Obama said.

If confirmed, Gregg would be the third Republican in Obama's Cabinet along with Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood.

As Commerce Secretary Gregg would lead a department that must help create jobs in a economy that continues its downward spiral.

Gregg, 61, is serving his third term in the Senate and sits on the Appropriations, Budget, and Health, Education, Labor and Pensions committees.

Obama had originally chosen New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson for the Commerce secretary position. But he withdrew his nomination as a grand jury investigation looked into state contracts being awarded to political donors.

New Hampshire Gov. John Lynch, a Democrat, appointed Republican Bonnie Newman as Gregg's successor in the Senate Tuesday. Newman has never held elected office, her experience being as a businesswoman and a government official. She will serve the remaining two years of Gregg's term. With the Senate closely divided between the two political parties, Republicans there had said that Lynch's selection should preserve the same party breakdown in the chamber.

Sen. John Rockefeller, D-W.Va., the chairman of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation, said Gregg is a "great fit" for Commerce secretary and that bipartisanship is needed if any economic recovery plans are to succeed.

"We face major economic challenges in America today and the only way we are going to successfully reinvest in our country is by working together across the aisle to produce solutions that deliver for working families," Rockefeller said.

Edward Lee Pitts
Edward Lee Pitts

Lee teaches journalism at Dordt College in Sioux Center, Iowa, and is the associate dean of the World Journalism Institute.


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