Tanden’s path to confirmation looks increasingly untenable
Senate confirmation of Neera Tanden to lead the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) appeared increasingly improbable on Monday after three key Republicans said they would oppose her.
GOP Sens. Susan Collins (Maine), Mitt Romney (Utah) and Rob Portman (Ohio) joined Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) in opposing Tanden, seemingly leaving her at least one vote short for a confirmation.
If Tanden falls, it would be the first time a Biden Cabinet nominee was blocked from confirmation.
Given the Manchin defection, President Biden would need one Republican in the narrowly Democratic-controlled Senate to vote in favor of Tanden’s confirmation. But on Monday, three of the most likely possible votes said they would not back her, citing inflammatory tweets.
While the White House has publicly backed Tanden, officials are already considering backup plans.
“The president nominated her because he believed she’d be a stellar OMB director,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki said at a press briefing. “This is a process — confirmations, getting individuals confirmed is. She has two committee votes this week, and we’re working toward that and we’ll continue to work in supporting her nomination.”
Asked if the White House still believes Tanden has a path to 50 votes, where Vice President Harris would serve as a tie-breaker, Psaki said “we do” but declined to elaborate.
The Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee and Senate Budget Committee both need to hold votes on Tanden’s nomination before it can advance to the floor for a vote.
Portman, the top Republican on the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, said just before announcing his opposition to Tanden that nobody from the White House has reached out to try to convince him to vote for her.
Tanden has met with 35 senators so far, the White House said, but the math is quickly becoming unworkable for her to get confirmed.
Without Collins or Romney, there are only a few moderate Republicans who might vote to support her. It’s also not clear Manchin will be the only Democrat to oppose her.
Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.), another moderate, and Senate Budget Committee Chairman Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), who was the subject of critical Tanden tweets, are among those who have not said whether they will support the nominee.
One Democratic source said they expected Tanden to ultimately withdraw and be appointed to a position within the administration that does not require Senate confirmation.
Tanden’s backers on Monday reiterated their support and pushed the Senate to confirm her.
Members of the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus sent a letter to senators on Monday describing Tanden as “exceptionally qualified.” The letter noted the historical significance of Tanden’s nomination, given that she would be the first Asian American and woman of color to lead OMB.
“Ms. Tanden is widely recognized as an expert in domestic, economic, and foreign policy,” the letter states. “Not only is she a leading architect of bold policies designed to support working families, foster broad-based economic growth, and curb rampant inequality, but she is also a pragmatic policy maker who understands the importance of working across the aisle to find common ground on initiatives that will move our nation forward.”
Names of replacement nominees have started to circulate. Gene Sperling, a former head of the National Economic Council under Presidents Obama and Clinton, and Ann O’Leary, a former aide to Hillary Clinton and California Gov. Gavin Newsom (D), are among the early contenders.
It’s not uncommon for a new administration to withdraw at least one of its Cabinet picks in the face of opposition or controversy. Former President Trump didn’t have a Labor secretary confirmed until April 2017 after his first pick, Andrew Puzder, withdrew amid bipartisan concerns over his nomination.
Former President Obama put forward two failed nominees for Commerce secretary before his third pick, Gary Locke, was confirmed in March 2009.
Biden is already working shorthanded. The president has only six confirmed Cabinet members more than a month into his presidency, even as he seeks to navigate multiple crises.
Psaki told reporters earlier this month that she expected Biden’s first budget to be delayed due to “a bit of intransigence from the outgoing administration and lack of cooperation.” The lack of an OMB director for several more weeks would likely further derail that process.
Biden told reporters last week he expected to have the votes to confirm Tanden, after Manchin said he opposed her nomination due to her “overtly partisan statements.” One Democratic source suggested the president could still convince Manchin to reverse his stance or persuade Republicans to vote for her, but that doing so would come at a price.
“To me, it’s a function of how much political capital he’s willing to spend,” said the Democratic strategist.
Tanden has gotten support from some unlikely places — conservative radio host Hugh Hewitt and former Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) have urged the Senate to confirm her — but it’s unclear whether such voices will convince GOP senators.
Psaki said Monday that the White House has been “working the phones” to touch base with Democratic and Republican offices but did not say who they had reached out to.
Tanden’s path to confirmation was expected to be difficult given her sharp voice on Twitter.
She once compared Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnel (R-Ky.) to the “Harry Potter” villain Voldemort, said that vampires had more heart than Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), called Collins “the worst” and referred to Flake as “criminally ignorant.”
Tanden deleted scores of tweets prior to her hearing, drawing further suspicion among Republicans. She went on to apologize for her rhetoric and vowed to take a bipartisan approach to her job if confirmed.
Tanden’s defenders have accused her critics of hypocrisy and argued her qualifications should outweigh any mean tweets, particularly given how GOP senators often looked the other way over Trump’s tweets.
Asked about criticism that Tanden’s tweets were divisive and undermined Biden’s push for unity, Psaki said Monday that Tanden had a record of working with members of both parties on issues like criminal justice reform and education while leading the Center for American Progress.
“She is willing and eager to meet with people who agree with her, of course, and also people who disagree with her,” Psaki said.
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