12:06 PM, Feb 11, 2009 • By MICHAEL GOLDFARB
Apparently Obama has discovered a small problem with having Republicans in his cabinet: he can't trust them. With the nomination of Judd Gregg to the post of Commerce Secretary, the Obama administration is making what looks like an unprecedented move to control the census. Typically, the census is overseen by the Secretary of Commerce, but with Gregg slated to take that spot, Democrats in Congress -- particularly the CBC -- pushed Obama to move the operation into the White House, where Rahm Emanuel can oversee the head count. Robert Gibbs defended the move late last week:
Obama gave himself a lot of credit in Monday's presser for having three Republicans in his cabinet -- he described his own effort at bipartisanship as "unprecedented" -- but in going from two to three, Obama also made things a little easier for Democrats in the Senate, who will now have a better chance at getting to 60 in 2010. In exchange for that partisan advantage, one might have expected Obama to allow Gregg to fulfill his responsibilities in the same manner as any other nominee -- with no more and no less oversight from the White House. Instead, he's trying to remove Gregg from the Senate and neuter him as a member of the cabinet. It's not very bipartisan.
Still, as the left so often reminded us during the last eight years, cabinet secretaries are obliged to implement the president's views only insofar as those views are believed to be legal, moral, and compatible with the democratic principles that make us better than the terrorists. If Gregg is to serve as Secretary of Commerce, his most important job will be to oversee the census. If the census is politicized, he can always resign in protest. The same goes for the other Republicans in the cabinet. If Obama takes some irresponsible course in Iraq that subordinates national security to domestic political concerns, Gates can walk. And if Obama decides to just pave over the states that didn't vote for him as part of some grand new infrastructure/stimulus spending plan, Republican Ray Lahood could make things really difficult for the president by resigning to write a Paul O'Neill-style book.