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Obama-Commerce 02-03

Obama to name Gregg as commerce secretary

Eds: Will be updated from late morning announcement. Moving on general news and financial services.

AP Photo WX110

By LIZ SIDOTI

Associated Press Writer

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WASHINGTON (AP) — President Barack Obama’s Cabinet is about to be completed — again.

A White House official says the president plans to formally nominate Sen. Judd Gregg, a New Hampshire Republican, as his commerce secretary Tuesday, filling the last remaining spot on his senior roster two weeks after he was sworn into office.

If confirmed by the Senate, Gregg would fill out an administration team tasked with steering the nation out of a recession now in its second year. He also would become the third Republican in Obama’s Cabinet, joining Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood.

The White House official who disclosed the pending Gregg nomination spoke on the condition of anonymity to avoid publicly pre-empting the president.

Aside from the Gregg announcement, Obama was slated to spend the day promoting passage of his massive plan to jump-start the economy in a series of Oval Office interviews with ABC, CBS, NBC, CNN and Fox News Channel. He spoke with Democratic congressional leaders about the spending and tax-cut package on Monday afternoon at the White House, and planned to talk economics with the Democratic rank-and-file at House and Senate retreats later in the week.

Obama moved swiftly in the weeks after his November election to select agency heads; he had his full Cabinet in place by mid-December, just before traveling to Hawaii for a holiday break.

But two weeks later, New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson, Obama’s initial selection for commerce secretary, withdrew his name amid a grand jury investigation into a state contract awarded to his political donors.

Since then, two other Cabinet picks — Timothy Geithner and Tom Daschle — ran into trouble when it was disclosed that they failed to pay portions of their taxes. Geithner eventually won Senate confirmation as Obama’s treasury secretary, though Daschle’s nomination for health and human services secretary is uncertain despite unwavering White House support.

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Obama has spent almost a month finding a replacement for Richardson.

The president finally settled on 61-year-old Gregg, a former New Hampshire governor who previously served in the House. Gregg has been in the Senate since 1993 and currently serves as the top Republican on the Senate Budget Committee.

He would become the latest in a long string of lawmakers to leave Congress to serve in Obama’s administration, either in the Cabinet or as a senior White House staff member.

Gregg’s nomination — and pending Senate vacancy — would mean New Hampshire Gov. John Lynch, a Democrat, would have the power to appoint a Senate successor. Republicans feared Gregg’s departure would put the seat into Democratic hands, perhaps giving the controlling party a filibuster-proof majority.

However, after negotiations with the governor’s office, Gregg said Monday in a statement, "I have made it clear to the Senate leadership on both sides of the aisle and to the governor that I would not leave the Senate if I felt my departure would cause a change in the makeup of the Senate."

Lynch confirmed the "understanding," though he stopped short of promising to appoint a Republican or an independent to serve out the remaining two years of Gregg’s term.

Nevertheless, it’s all but certain Lynch will choose a Republican, probably Bonnie Newman. She is a veteran of the Reagan White House who served as Gregg’s chief of staff during his House tenure. Under such a plan, Newman would not run in the 2010 election for the Senate seat.

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