There's a Hex on Obama's Commerce Secretaries

It's supposed to be a forgettable cabinet position, but the people nominated to lead President Obama's Department of Commerce seem predestined to resist the low profile.

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It's supposed to be a forgettable cabinet position, but the people nominated to lead President Obama's Department of Commerce seem predestined to resist the low profile.

Last night, Commerce Secretary John Bryson became the latest example of bad luck befalling the Obama administration's Department of Commerce after being cited for a felony hit-and-run following two car crashes in Los Angeles. (The Commerce Department is saying he suffered a seizure, investigators aren't ruling out substance abuse.) While it's too early to assign blame, the car crash is the latest incident in which the low profile and largely symbolic position has generated unwelcome front page news. "Until this morning, I could not have named the U.S. commerce secretary," tweeted The Atlantic's Jeff Goldberg. "I thought it was a guy named Gutierrez."

Here's the bad news club Bryson just joined:

Penny Pritzker. In 2008, President Obama's longtime billionaire friend and campaign finance chairman Penny Pritzker torpedoed reports that she was seeking the cabinet position after running into "business obstacles that prevented her from becoming commerce secretary," The Washington Post's Shailagh Murray and Matthew Mosk reported. The paper says the job was hers for the taking but things apparently went sour after she launched a "review of her vast financial holdings, weighing whether she could disentangle herself to the extent necessary to meet Obama's strict standards for service in his administration" (read: lobbyist, donor ties).

Bill Richardson. Causing an unwelcome headache for the Obama administration, in January 2009, New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson abandoned his nomination for commerce secretary as he came under pressure for a "pay-to-play" grand jury investigation into a state contract given to one of his political donors (aggravating timing, no doubt, as the pay-to-play scandal involving Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich was fresh in the public's mind). In 2009, Richardson was cleared in the federal probe.

Judd Gregg. A particularly embarrassing pick, the Republican Senator not only withdrew his nomination from the position but jabbed the administration on his way out. Seen as a good faith effort of bipartisanship, the Republican was nominated to lead the department in 2009 but ended up backing out in protest of the president's stimulus plan and the politicization of the 2010 census. “I’m a fiscal conservative, as everybody knows, a fairly strong one,” he said. “And it just became clear to me that it would be very difficult, day in and day out, to serve in this cabinet or any cabinet.” That charade brought up unflattering descriptions like this, by The New York Times' Jeff Zeleny: "The departure of Mr. Gregg is the latest setback to a White House that has struggled to fill several top positions and to fulfill Mr. Obama’s pledge of building a bipartisan administration. He is the third prospective cabinet secretary — the second for the Commerce Department — to remove his name from consideration."

John Bryson. Bryson was found unconscious behind the wheel of his Lexus after hitting two cars in Los Angeles. Initial reports suggested Bryson was not impaired but a lieutenant with the San Gabriel Police Department tells Talking Points Memo that investigators have not ruled out drug or alcohol use. “We can’t confirm that it was no drugs or alcohol,” Lt. Ariel Duran said by phone. “We don’t know until all the testing comes back. So at this point, it could be one of those or it could be medical.” The Commerce Department says Bryson "suffered a seizure," which would give credence to the latter suggestion. The Associated Press described the alleged incident as such:

The secretary was driving alone in a Lexus on a major street in San Gabriel when he allegedly struck the rear end of a vehicle occupied by three males that had been stopped for a passing train.

He spoke briefly with the occupants and then hit their car again as he departed, the officials said. The three followed him while calling police.

On a somewhat slow news day, the incident captivated Twitter this morning:

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.