Consistent with GOP spin, media reports ignore Gregg's statement that census was "not a major issue"

››› ››› MORGAN WEILAND

Several media reports have noted that Sen. Judd Gregg cited concerns about the census in a press release announcing that he was withdrawing his nomination for secretary of commerce. But those reports ignored Gregg's subsequent statement during a press conference that the census was "not a major issue" in his decision to withdraw.

Consistent with Republicans' framing of the issue, several media reports have noted that Sen. Judd Gregg (R-NH) cited concerns about the census in a February 12 press release announcing that he was withdrawing his nomination for secretary of commerce, but ignored Gregg's subsequent statement during a February 12 press conference that the census was "not a major issue" in his decision to withdraw. For instance, a February 13 Washington Post article reported that Gregg "cited concerns about Obama's economic recovery plan and the administration's intent to have the next census director report to senior White House officials as well as the commerce secretary," but did not note Gregg's statement at the press conference.

A February 13 Politico article quoted Republican leaders in the House of Representatives touting the role the census played in Gregg's decision. National politics editor Charles Mahtesian reported that on Capitol Hill "Republicans applauded boisterously" and quoted Republican Study Committee Chairman Tom Price (R-GA) playing up the importance of the census. Mahtesian quoted Price saying: "The president's politically charged move to place the nonpartisan census process in the hands of his staff contradicts every pledge of openness he made on the campaign trail. While the White House continues to break promises for politics, I commend Sen. Gregg for acting with integrity. Sen. Gregg has shown the American people the type of selfless leadership they should only hope to see from the White House." Mahtesian also quoted House Minority Whip Eric Cantor (R-VA) saying that "Sen. Gregg's decision reinforces suspicions about the stimulus bill and about moving the census from the Commerce Department to the White House." Additionally, Mahtesian reported that "by noting his differing view on the census, Gregg breathed life into Republican charges of a White House power grab over a critical Commerce Department function."

However, while Gregg stated in his February 12 press release that the census and the stimulus bill are "irresolvable conflicts for me," when asked during his February 12 press conference, "What role did issues with the census play?" Gregg responded: "The census was only a slight catalyzing issue. It was not a major issue." Subsequently, a reporter asked Gregg, "[C]an you just elaborate on the census as being an issue?" Gregg responded: "Well, I don't need to elaborate. I know it was a slight issue." A reporter then asked: "Well, what was the issue, from your perspective?" Gregg responded: "It wasn't a big enough issue for me to even discuss what the issue was."

Examples of media reporting that Gregg cited the census in withdrawing his bid for the commerce post without noting that Gregg said the census was "not a major issue" include the following:

  • During the February 14 edition of NPR's Weekend Edition Saturday, host Scott Simon said of Gregg's withdrawal, "And what happened there? Stimulus package was involved, but -- ." NPR news analyst Juan Williams responded that "the stimulus package really was, I think, a backdrop because Judd Gregg initially recused himself from voting in the Senate as the nominee for that Cabinet post." Williams continued: "But then it came out that he not only was really concerned about the level of spending involved, but concerned about the fact that Commerce oversees the census, the census for 2010, and that the White House was saying, 'We're gonna oversee the census. Don't worry about Judd Gregg doing it.' Judd Gregg at one point had voted to do away with the Commerce Department position, has seen -- been seen as a critic of the census." Williams later added: "So, he felt, 'Look, if I'm not going to be a player in terms of the economic package,' because he doesn't fully believe it, and he's not going to be a player in terms of what's going on in the census, then why put on the uniform?"
  • During the February 14 edition of CNN Newsroom, host Fredricka Whitfield said "In addition to the stimulus, Judd Gregg says, 'Wait a minute, I also have a problem with the issue of the Census Bureau going to the White House, as opposed to being under my authority in the Commerce Department if secretary.' " She then asked CNN senior political analyst Bill Schneider, "What's really at issue here? Why is that a big deal?" Schneider replied, in part: "Well, a lot of Republicans noticed that the White House had said that they wanted to have a connection, they wanted to at least supervise the census from 2010 or have some input in it. It comes under the Commerce Department. Judd Gregg in the past has been very critical of the census and, in fact, voted to cut its funding in the 1990s. Now, he would be in charge of it." He continued: "Republicans said if the White House exercises control of something like the census, which is supposed to be totally nonpartisan, they believe that puts -- makes bipartisanship look like a sham because if they want to control the census, they are politicizing it, and that means they want to kill us because these members of Congress live and die by what happens in the census."
  • In a February 13 article, Washington Post staff writers Anne E. Kornblut and Michael D. Shear asserted that in withdrawing Gregg "cited concerns about Obama's economic recovery plan and the administration's intent to have the next census director report to senior White House officials as well as the commerce secretary." They also reported that "[i]n his statement, Gregg said that 'on issues such as the stimulus package and the Census there are irresolvable conflicts for me. Prior to accepting this post, we had discussed these and other potential differences, but unfortunately we did not adequately focus on these concerns.'"
  • A February 13 Associated Press article, "Gregg withdraws as commerce secretary nominee," reported that "Gregg cited 'irresolvable conflicts' with Obama's policies, specifically mentioning the $790 billion economic stimulus bill and 2010 census in a statement released without warning by his Senate office." The AP went on to note that "[i]n his statement, Gregg said his withdrawal had nothing to do with the vetting into his past that Cabinet officials routinely undergo. He told the AP he foresaw conflicts over health care, global warming and taxes. He also cited both the stimulus and the census as areas of disagreement with the administration."

As Media Matters for America documented, CNN national political correspondent Jessica Yellin previously described the census as one of "two big issues" leading to Gregg's withdrawal, ignoring Gregg's subsequent statement that it wasn't "a major issue" in his decision to withdraw.

From the February 14 edition of NPR's Weekend Edition Saturday:

SIMON: Don't want to lose sight of the fact that President Obama lost another nominee for commerce secretary this week, Judd Gregg of New Hampshire. And what happened there? Stimulus package was involved, but --

WILLIAMS: Well, the stimulus package really was, I think, a backdrop because Judd Gregg initially recused himself from voting in the Senate as the nominee for that Cabinet post. But then it came out that he not only was really concerned about the level of spending involved, but concerned about the fact that Commerce oversees the census, the census for 2010, and that the White House was saying, "We're gonna oversee the census. Don't worry about Judd Gregg doing it."

Judd Gregg at one point had voted to do away with the Commerce Department position, had seen -- been seen as a critic of the census. And the black caucus, Latino caucus in the Congress was very concerned about this caucus, having long feared that blacks and Latinos are undercounted. And they wanted to go to a system where you have more estimates taken of people in poor communities, disproportionately minority communities. And that's something that would not have happened under Judd Gregg.

So, he felt, "Look, if I'm not going to be a player in terms of the economic package," because he doesn't fully believe it, and he's not going to be a player in terms of what's going on in the census, then why put on the uniform?

From the February 14 edition of CNN Newsroom:

WHITFIELD: Well, how significant that at least there were three Republican senators, though, that did say, "You know what, we hear you, we agree with this plan, we do feel like it would work"?

SCHNEIDER: Well, that is an achievement. He had to have those three to overcome the threat or the reality of a filibuster in getting to 60 votes in the Senate. He got it, there was a lot of arm-twisting, and there were some accommodations that had to be made there. Susan Collins of Maine, her colleague Olympia -- Olivia Snowe of Maine, and her colleague Susan Collins of Maine both voted for the stimulus bill, as did Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania. All three are moderate Republicans -- there are very few of those left. But by and large, the Republican Party held fast because they said, "Look, this bill is about how we define ourselves. It's a core principle," which happens to be exactly what Judd Gregg cited when he said he didn't think he could serve in President Obama's cabinet.

WHITFIELD: In fact, let's elaborate a little bit more on him. In addition to the stimulus, Judd Gregg says, "Wait a minute, I also have a problem with the issue of the Census Bureau going to the White House, as opposed to being under my authority in the Commerce Department if secretary." What's really at issue here? Why is that a big deal?

SCHNEIDER: Well, a lot of Republicans noticed that the White House had said that they wanted to have a connection, they wanted to at least supervise the census from 2010 or have some input in it. It comes under the Commerce Department. Judd Gregg in the past has been very critical of the census and, in fact, voted to cut its funding in the 1990s. Now, he would be in charge of it, and the White House was worried about that. A lot of minority groups, minority members of Congress were worried because they are concerned about undercounting of minorities. And Republicans said if the White House exercises control of something like the census, which is supposed to be totally nonpartisan, they believe that puts -- makes bipartisanship look like a sham because if they want to control the census, they are politicizing it, and that means they want to kill us because these members of Congress live and die by what happens in the census.

We've changed our commenting system to Disqus.
Instructions for signing up and claiming your comment history are located here.
Updated rules for commenting are here.