The reaction from Obama: "It comes as something of a surprise, because the truth, you know, Mr. Gregg approached us with interest and seemed enthusiastic," the president said in an interview with the Springfield (Ill.) Journal-Register. "Later, he told reporters traveling with him on Air Force One that he was glad Gregg 'searched his heart' and changed course now before the Senate confirmed him to the Cabinet post… "'Clearly he was just having second thoughts about leaving the Senate, a place where he's thrived,' Obama added." Obama's reaction echoes, in some ways, the White House's, which first issued a tough first statement and then toned it down.
The Washington Post says the episode "underscored how burdensome Cabinet selection has become for the new administration, which has watched nearly half a dozen of its top appointees withdraw or face embarrassing scrutiny over the past several weeks. The slip-ups have caused the White House to revamp its vetting process and have slowed down confirmations for nominees already in the pipeline. And now Obama is left with two key openings -- at the departments of Commerce and Health and Human Services -- and more questions about his personnel choices."
The Boston Globe on Gregg: "The stunning move further erodes Obama's effort to forge a bipartisan approach to governing and enables Gregg -- who had recused himself from all Senate votes while his nomination was pending -- to vote against the stimulus bill."
Will Gregg vote for the stimulus today? The Washington Post: "He has refused to say how he will vote. His Republican friends expect him to oppose the measure, giving them the symbolic victory of a former Obama insider voting against the legislation."
The New Hampshire Union Leader reminds us that "Gregg insisted he would not accept the nomination if Republicans would lose a crucial filibuster vote in the Senate. After confidential talks between the White House, Gregg and New Hampshire Gov. John Lynch, Lynch then named a Republican placeholder. Lynch, a Democrat, upset some in his party when he named J. Bonnie Newman, a former chief of staff for Gregg, to the Senate."
The Hill calls Gregg's withdrawal a "stunning blow." Gregg's reason: "'irresolvable conflicts' over two of the young administration's most controversial policies. He cited the stimulus package and a dispute over control of the 2010 Census as prompting his dramatic withdrawal, a move that pushed the White House into full damage-control mode."
But keep this in mind, as AP's Babington writes: "Quick, who headed the Commerce Department under President George W. Bush? No disrespect to Carlos M. Gutierrez, but commerce secretary is not one of Washington's more glamorous jobs… White House aides would draw more attention at a Georgetown cocktail party or Dupont Circle restaurant… But the job is giving a disproportionately big headache to President Barack Obama, who now must try a third time to fill it. Don't be surprised if he picks a lower-profile nominee, because his two rather ambitious choices have backfired."
Back on the trail? The AP reports that Obama "plans events in Denver and Phoenix next Tuesday and Wednesday to promote his stimulus plan, his version of the financial system bailout, and a yet-to-be-unveiled plan to stem home foreclosures."
Per the Washington Post's Cillizza, Obama adviser David Axelrod "had harsh words for some of former President Bush's closest advisers during an interview with the Post's Lois Romano yesterday, dismissing as 'intramural stuff' the critiques offered by the former Administration.
The RNC has released a series of Valentines that mock the Obama administration and Democratic congressional leaders.
Admiral Michael Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said Wednesday night that it is important to maintain a "chemical balance" in Afghanistan regarding the number of troops in the area, NBC's Lauren Appelbaum reports. Towards the end of his speech, Mullen told a story about a battalion commander who had created such a balance in an area near the Pakistan border. "The lesson I took from listening to him was the need to make sure, as we introduce more forces, that we understand the chemistry that's working there and we understand the potential to imbalance that chemistry with footprints and with a potential view that are you here to help us or are you going to occupy our territory, which is a critical question that all of us have to keep in mind," he said during the evening session of the 20th annual Special Operations, Low Intensity Conflict Symposium. "And the future in Afghanistan needs to be focused on the Afghan people, on those tribal leaders, and our relationship with them."
On Iraq, Mullen said the country is "a whole lot better," in part because of special forces and "the merger of intelligence and operations as we have never seen it or done it before." Mullen: "We are in a position right now, as many of you know, that Iraq has gotten a whole lot better and you've either read that or you've been there and you know that."