In an unusual arrangement, Republican Sen. Judd Gregg agreed Tuesday to join the Obama administration as Commerce secretary after the Democratic governor of New Hampshire agreed to appoint another Republican to replace him in the Senate.
Gov. John Lynch tapped former GOP staffer Bonnie Newman, citing a need for bipartisanship during "an unprecedented national economic crisis."
Gregg thanked Lynch "for his extraordinary courtesy and political courage in making this decision."
Newman's appointment means Republicans still have 41 Senate seats, enough to filibuster Democratic legislation.
Newman pledged not to run for the Senate when Gregg's term ends in 2010. "This assignment is not about politics and business as usual," said Newman, former interim president of the University of New Hampshire. "It is about governing."
Newman was on the staff of then-Rep. Gregg in the 1980s. She worked in the White House for President George H.W. Bush. If confirmed by the Senate, Gregg will be the third Republican in President Obama's Cabinet, joining Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood.
In the past month, Gregg voted against two Obama-backed bills, an expansion of the Children's Health Insurance Program and a law making it easier to sue for pay discrimination. In 1995, Gregg voted to abolish the very Commerce Department he now plans to lead.
"Clearly, Judd and I don't agree on every issue, most notably who should have won the election," Obama joked during a brief White House ceremony. "But we agree on the urgent need to get American businesses and families back on their feet."
Obama cited Gregg's qualifications as a businessman, governor, House member and senator for 16 years. As Commerce Secretary, Gregg would be responsible for promoting American business, particularly overseas. "He's seen from all angles what makes our economy," Obama said.
Gregg cited the economic crisis and bipartisanship in his remarks. "This is not a time when we should stand in our ideological corners and shout at each other," he said. "This is a time to govern and govern well."
The National Association of Manufacturers praised Gregg for his "true understanding of manufacturing's key role in the strength of the American economy" and how to keep it "globally competitive."
The U.S. Business and Industry Council protested the appointment. It said he "voted non-stop for bad trade deals that have shipped overseas thousands of factories and large numbers of high-wage jobs."
Senators in both parties praised Gregg, although Democrat Russ Feingold of Wisconsin protested "the apparent behind-the-scenes deal-making" to fill Gregg's Senate seat. Feingold advocates a constitutional amendment to end appointments by governors, citing recent controversies over filling the Senate seats vacated by Obama in Illinois and Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton in New York.