UPDATED: Well played, Mr. Obama


Barack Obama has an ace up his sleeve:

President Obama could name Republican Sen. Judd Gregg of New Hampshire as his choice for commerce secretary as early as Monday, a move that potentially would mean a major shift in the balance of power on Capitol Hill.

New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson had to withdraw as commerce nominee due to financial irregularities, and apparently Senator Gregg is atop the short list to replace him. He is the “leading candidate,” according to an administration official.

If the offer is made and Gregg accepts, this puts some interesting political plot twists into play. New Hampshire has a Democratic Governor, John Lynch, who will name the successor to Gregg. If Governor Lynch appoints a Democrat to fill the vacant senate it would increase the size of the Senate Democratic caucus to fifty-nine, just one vote shy of a filibuster-proof majority of sixty.

If the pending legal challenges in the Minnesota Senate race are resolved in favor of Al Franken over incumbent Norm Coleman, the Senate Democrats would have the magic number of sixty (Joe Lieberman is an independent, however he caucuses with the Democrats). Coleman has been described by many as having an “uphill battle” in terms of holding his senate seat.

Many Republicans are seeking to sway Gregg from accepting the nomination, if offered, however the New Hampshire Senator is playing it close to the hip for the moment:

The lawmaker confirmed Friday that he was being vetted for the post and pointedly declined to take his name out of the running.

Even if all of these events come to pass, I’m not sure if it makes a huge difference; the Democrats are close enough to enact mostly anything they want. Even as it stands now it is not much of a stretch for two Republicans to flip and vote with the Democrats, and there goes the filibuster.

The only truly significant power provided to Republicans by controlling forty-one seats is the ability to stop the most monstrous of bills, and we don’t even know if that will happen, do we?

UPDATE: Apparently there has been some back room deal making:

Sen. Judd Gregg, New Hampshire Republican, has told colleagues that if he becomes commerce secretary, his replacement would affiliate with the GOP, denying Democrats’ total dominance, his party leader said Sunday.

That would require an agreement involving President Obama, who would appoint Mr. Gregg to his Cabinet, and New Hampshire Democratic Gov. John Lynch, who would name Mr. Gregg’s successor to the Senate. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, Kentucky Republican, suggested that such an arrangement was in the works.

“Sen. Gregg has assured me that if this were to happen, if it were to happen, it would not change the makeup of the Senate,” Mr. McConnell said on CBS’ “Face the Nation.” “In other words, whoever is appointed to replace him would caucus with Senate Republicans, so I think it would have no impact on the balance of power in the Senate.”

Is it cynical and wrong to be concerned about bad faith on the part of the Democrats? Picture Lucy pulling the football away from the oncoming Charlie Brown. It is easy to envision the replacement senator switching sides about five minutes after Gregg resigns his seat, or perhaps some days or weeks later when the Democrats want to jam down a really awful, lefty piece of legislation.

Does being commerce secretary and providing Republican cover for the most left wing president in United States history sound that appealing, Senator Gregg? What else could cause you to risk the balance of power in the senate, not to mention ceding the advantage of incumbency in 2010?

Mr. Gregg, a former Republican governor and three-term senator, is up for re-election in 2010. He was expected to face a serious challenge in a state that has increasingly leaned Democratic in recent years.

Perhaps the good senator cannot envision the possibility of releasing his grasp on the public teat.

UPDATE 2: Ed Morrissey has more. He thinks the whole deal is unlikely and that Governor Lynch would be crazy to make such a deal. Perhaps Gregg deserves cheers not jeers?

UPDATE 3: Still more from Dwayne Horner at Town Hall:

However, according to The Hill, Judd Gregg is baulking at helping the Democrats.  “Gregg would never allow his seat to go to a Democrat, the only way he would allow it is if he died,” said a Republican close to Gregg. “He would consider it to be a breach of trust to people who elected it.”

This is a situation of deja vu all over again for Gregg, who back in 2000 was being considered for a cabinet post under then President George W. Bush. What is possibly keeping him from accepting it this time around is what kept him from accepting it then: a Democrat governor would appoint a fellow Democrat which would hurt the GOP in the Senate. Then it was a razor-thin GOP margin while today it would help the Democrats get a filibuster-proof majority.

Arizona Senator Jon Kyl hinted on FOX News Sunday with Chris Wallace that there was a possible behind-the-scenes deal working to keep the NH Senate seat in the hands of the Republicans. Clever move by Obama, if it works. One question though, why would pick a Senator who has very close ties to former President Bush when he spent an entire campaign criticizing him for just about everything he did?

UPDATE 4:  Now this article in Town Hall makes it sound as if Gregg accepting the commerce nod is a done deal:

“In other words, whoever is appointed to replace him would caucus with Senate Republicans, so I think it would have no impact on the balance of power in the Senate,” Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the Senate’s minority leader, told “Face the Nation” on CBS.

If a Republican is appointed, the Democrats will be no closer to their goal of holding 60 Senate seats, enough to cut off Republican filibusters if all Democrats vote together. They now have 56 votes. Two independents usually vote with the Democrats, giving them 58 votes. The outcome in a still-disputed Senate election in Minnesota could bring that to 59 votes.

The Republican expected to get the seat until a new election is held in two years is Bonnie Newman, who served as Gregg’s chief of staff when Gregg was in the House. She is a veteran of the Reagan White House. Under the deal that has been worked out, she will not run in the 2010 election.

The move would allow Gregg to join the Cabinet without giving Democrats’ unchecked power in Congress. It also would spare him a difficult re-election bid.

“Under the deal that has been worked out, she will not run in the 2010 election?” Huh? I wish that car salesmen were all Republicans – I’d get a 60% discount on every car I buy!