Article published Monday, February 2nd, 2009, at Fox News.

Obama’s Senate Games

By John R. Lott, Jr.

You would think that Rod Blagojevich’s recent removal from 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 understanding that 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 painted the offer as an attempt by Obama to bring Republicans and Democrats together.

Yet, as Politico’s Ben Smith noted on 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.

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 promised that 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 other Chicago 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 forced to withdraw his name over investigations into bribery.

*John Lott is the author of Freedomnomics and a senior research scientist at the University of Maryland.

Home (description of book, downloadable data sets, and discussions of previous controversies)

Academic papers:

Social Science Research Network

Book Reviews:

For a list of book reviews on The Bias Against Guns, click here.

List of my Op-eds

Posts by topic

Appalachian law school attack

Baghdad murder rate

Arming Pilots

Fraudulent website pretending to be run by me

The Merced Pitchfork Killings and Vin Suprynowicz's quote

Ayres and Donohue

Stanford Law Review

Mother Jones article


Craig Newmark

Eric Rasmusen

William Sjostrom

Dr. T's

Interview with National Review Online

Lyonette Louis-Jacques's page on Firearms Regulation Worldwide

The End of Myth: An Interview with Dr. John Lott

Cold Comfort, Economist John Lott discusses the benefits of guns--and the hazards of pointing them out.

An interview with John R. Lott, Jr. author of More Guns, Less Crime: Understanding Crime and Gun Control Laws

Some data not found at

Updated Media Analysis of Appalachian Law School Attack

Since the first news search was done additional news stories have been added to Nexis:

There are thus now 218 unique stories, and a total of 294 stories counting duplicates (the stories in yellow were duplicates): Excel file for general overview and specific stories. Explicit mentions of defensive gun use increase from 2 to 3 now.

Journal of Legal Studies paper on spoiled ballots during the 2000 Presidential Election

Data set from USA Today, STATA 7.0 data set

"Do" File for some of the basic regressions from the paper