The appointment of Judd Gregg as the Secretary of Commerce has prompted a fair amount of head-scratching among Democrats.
The New Hampshire Republican is viewed as an adversary on the policy matters that he will now tasked with formulating. And while the promise of having a 60th caucusing Democrat replace him in Congress was alluring, the state's governor seems to have entered a gentleman's agreement of sorts to replace Gregg with a fellow Republican.
So what, exactly, was the point?
It may be simply that Obama is following the dictum of one of his favorite movies, The Godfather -- keep your friends close and your ideological opponents even closer.
"Dorris Kearns Goodwin doesn't need to sell anymore books, so I won't use the 'team of rivals.' But what it does say is that really good leaders make it their business to know the opposition," said Jennifer Donahue, Political Director of the New Hampshire Institute of Politics. "Obama seems to want to know what [the opposition] thinks and how they will react, and if you can get advice from Gregg he will be able to work better towards a consensus."
Gregg, as Donahue notes, is not an enemy of the administration; he's a political combatant. By having him on staff, the president could get a better sense of the roadblocks that await him in forthcoming legislative battles. Certainly, having Gregg at his disposal provides Obama with the best ambassador yet to GOP circles on the Hill.
But it comes with a price: yet another slight felt by the administration's progressive champions, who -- while acknowledging that the Commerce post is not the most vital in the Cabinet -- nevertheless were hoping for a more sympathetic voice.
"At first people were very willing to overlook Gregg's record since we thought he was going to get us to 60 seats," said a well-connected source in the labor community. "But there is no way to sugarcoat it, Gregg has an atrocious voting record on labor. But the President sets the policy agenda, so we are confident Obama will continue to have a pro-working-family White House."
Indeed, Gregg's record, taken at first glance, seems drastically at odds with the Obama administration's priorities. He voted with the GOP 83 percent of the time in the 110th Congress, voted against restricting employer interference in union organizing, favored implementing CAFTA, and was given a zero percent rating by the AFL-CIO in 2003. And while he supported increasing the minimum wage to $7.25 in 2007, he opposed an increase in 1999.
At one point in 2007, his role in obstructing Democratic legislation in the Senate was overt enough to prompt Majority Leader Harry Reid to dub Gregg the "designated 'see-if-we-can-mess-up-the-legislation' guy this year."
But now that he's in Obama's orbit, politicians once critical of the New Hampshire Republican have changed their tune. As Reid said in a statement shortly after Gregg's nomination:
"I commend President Obama for selecting an outstanding Senate leader to guide our nation's commerce at a critical time for our economy. And I applaud his willingness to include another Republican in his bipartisan Cabinet. Senator Gregg is respected on both sides of the aisle for his impressive intellect and strong commitment to public service. I have worked closely with him in the Senate and look forward to continuing our work together to develop bipartisan solutions to the serious economic problems facing our nation."