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Sen. Gregg withdraws as Commerce Secretary nominee. Obama team let Census management questions linger too long

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WASHINGTON--Sen. Judd Gregg (R-NH) withdrew his name Thursday as President Obama's Commerce Secretary. He cited differences with the administration over the stimulus bill and what he said was a "slight" issue over the handling of the Census Bureau.

The Obama team botched its chance to explain in a timely way, clearly, not in code, what Obama did--or did not--want to change in regards to overseeing the Census Bureau after Gregg was nominated.

White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs said "Senator Gregg reached out to the President and offered his name for Secretary of Commerce. He was very clear throughout the interviewing process that despite past disagreements about policies, he would support, embrace, and move forward with the President's agenda.

"Once it became clear after his nomination that Senator Gregg was not going to be supporting some of President Obama's key economic priorities, it became necessary for Senator Gregg and the Obama administration to part ways. We regret that he has had a change of heart".

The Census Bureau is a part of the Commerce Department and some Democrats complained to the Obama White House about the selection of Gregg, who seemed hostile to Census funding and some other issues. The upcoming census is next year, and an expert I talked to said the bureau is behind in planning.

Democrats and Republicans have ideological and practical issues over the Census, especially over statistical sampling over an actual count. How people are counted is important-the Census is the basis for redrawing electoral districts, from alderman to Congress and everything in-between.

So after some Democrats--particularly the Congressional Black Caucus--complained about Gregg, the White House sent some kind of signal--vague, but still something--that the White House will take some kind of oversight role with the Bureau. That morphed into Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel running the Census from the West Wing, though that is not the case. After a few days, as the issue festered, the White House then said in a statement not widely released that nothing would change.

Republicans this morning held a press conference to complain about what they asserted was a power grab.

"Yesterday our leadership, along with a group of members from the House Administration Committee and Government Reform
Committee, sent a letter to the president urging him to reconsider his
plan to hand over control of the 2010 census to political operatives
in the White House," House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Oh.) said.

Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-NY), long involved in Census issues, said "At today's event the House Republicans went on about how there were political machinations going on. But the only true political machinations have been over the past eight years: the Bush Administration's woefully inadequate planning and preparation for the next census, which may result in a failed count unless action is taken in the weeks ahead.

"A failed census is the ultimate political machination: it means lower income and minority citizens would be more likely to be missed, and affluent citizens would be more likely to be counted twice."

Bottom line: The Obama administraton could have had a different approach to placate nervous Democrats. The Obama team could have made it clear that the White House would appoint the Under Secretary for Economic Affairs, the person who runs the Commerce Department's Economics and Statistics Administration, a shop which includes the Bureau of the Census.

Below, from Maloney......

Rep. Maloney Statement on Republican Census Press Event:
"It's like an episode of Seinfeld: It's about nothing."

WASHINGTON--Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-NY) issued this statement in response to House Republicans' census press event this morning:

"House Republicans borrowed a page from Seinfeld today: they made a show about nothing. Even though the White House issued a statement saying that they were NOT proposing removing the Census from the Department of Commerce or directing the Census from the White House, today House Republicans had a press event to decry what ISN'T happening. And when questioned with that fact during the event, the Republicans effectively said 'So what? We still want to investigate it.'"

The AP's White House spokesman Benjamin LaBolt quote:
"This administration has not proposed removing the census from the Department of Commerce and the same congressional committees that had oversight during the previous administration will retain that authority."
-- http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20090211/ap_on_go_ot/census_politics


"At today's event the House Republicans went on about how there were political machinations going on. But the only true political machinations have been over the past eight years: the Bush Administration's woefully inadequate planning and preparation for the next census, which may result in a failed count unless action is taken in the weeks ahead. A failed census is the ultimate political machination: it means lower income and minority citizens would be more likely to be missed, and affluent citizens would be more likely to be counted twice . " Rep. Maloney said.

Background: Mrs. Maloney's bill to create an independent agency for the Census in the last Congress was HR 7069, "Restoring the Integrity of American Statistics Act of 2008." It had zero Republican cosponsors. Maloney plans to reintroduce her bill in the 111th Congress in the next few days.

Find out more at:
http://maloney.house.gov/index.php?option=com_issues&task=view_issue&issue=235&parent=11&Itemid=35


1 Comment

The Constitution clearly states that the Commerce Department is responsible for the census. Imagine if Bush put Karl Rove in charge of the census.

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Lynn Sweet

Lynn Sweet is a columnist and the Washington Bureau Chief for the Chicago Sun-Times.

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This page contains a single entry by Lynn Sweet published on February 12, 2009 3:20 PM.

Why closed door conference committee for stimulus bill? was the previous entry in this blog.

Obama at Caterpillar plant in East Peoria presses for stimulus and vote from freshman Rep. Schock. Transcript. is the next entry in this blog.

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