Opinion

Obama's Senate Games

By John R. Lott Jr."Freedomnomics" Author/Senior Research Scientist, University of Maryland

You would think that Rod Blagojevich's recent removalfrom office would make politicians extremely careful about appearances. Yet, President Obama may have now gotten himself into a similar situation over yet another Senate seat.

Over the last week, Obama has been in discussions with New Hampshire Senator Judd Gregg about becoming the next Secretary of Commerce. There has already been an understandingthat Obama was trying to tempt Senator Gregg with the offer to be head of Commerce so that the Democrats would obtain a filibuster proof senate. News articles have paintedthe offer as an attempt by Obama to bring Republicans and Democrats together.

[caption id="attachment_6673" align="aligncenter" width="300" caption="Sen. Judd Gregg, R-N.H., makes remarks at a news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, Oct. 1, 2008. (AP)"][/caption]

Yet, as Politico's Ben Smith notedon Saturday:

"The White House, I'm told, is still trying to get a guarantee from Governor Lynch that he'll replace Senator Gregg with a Democrat."

Smith's statement was a single sentence and no other implications have been drawn from it. But a report in The Wall Street Journal's Political Diary today seems to confirm this claim.

Obama is misappropriating a government position, putting someone into his cabinet who he doesn't believe is the best person for the job.

The Politico information indicates that Obama clearly does not view Senator Gregg as the best person to head the Commerce Department. Rather, it makes explicit that Obama was offering the Commerce job solely to buy a Senate seat for the Democrats.

Senator Gregg, though, resisted any deal that gave Democrats an immediate filibuster proof majority. As Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell noted yesterday on CBS's "Face the Nation," Senator Gregg promisedthat he would only leave the Senate if another Republican replaced him.

So what was Obama to do? He apparently compromised for the next best option. John Fund at The Wall Street Journal reports on the new deal: Gregg will be replaced by a caretaker Republican who won't run for reelection -- giving the Democrats in an "increasingly" Democratic state "a good shot at picking up the seat" in the next election. By removing Gregg -- a popular Republican incumbent who can remain in the Senate as long as he wanted -- Obama is willing to buy his Senate seat for a delayed chance to create a filibuster proof Senate.

Arguably, buying this Senate seat might be even worse than doing so with a promise to help to raise campaign donations. Obama is misappropriating a government position, putting someone into his cabinet who he doesn't believe is the best person for the job.

With the nation in a recession, the Commerce Department position is even more important than usual. For Obama to use it to buy a Senate seat seems particularly troubling and cynical. -- A Senate seat that won't even be relevant for the legislation that, in Obama's view, could help with the recession.

Senator Gregg's motivations are obviously quite different from Obama's -- after all, heading up the Commerce Department is a powerful position and he might really believe that he is a better person for the job than whomever else Obama would appoint. But the White House's statement, as related by Politico, raises serious questions about whether Obama is really different from otherChicago politicians.

Ironically, not only was Blagojevich just removed from office for trying to sell a Senate seat, but the Commerce position is only open because Governor Bill Richardson was forcedto withdraw his name over investigations into bribery.

John R. Lottis the author of Freedomnomicsand a senior research scientist at the University of Maryland.