Murkowski never told White House she would oppose Tanden


Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), a key Senate swing vote, said Tuesday evening she never told the White House she would vote against Neera Tanden, President Biden’s former nominee to serve as White House budget director, and appeared surprised by the news that the nomination had been withdrawn.

Murkowski also noted that White House officials never directly asked how she would vote.

“I never did, they never asked,” she said when asked if she ever told the White House how she would vote on the nominee.

Now she will be spared what could have been a difficult decision after she met with Tanden Monday and carefully walked the nominee through the various issues facing Alaska and the impact of Biden’s seven executive actions on her home state.

“Now it means I’m going to have to do the Alaska tutorial 101 all over again with whoever it is that they name because I need this person to understand our challenges,” she said of Biden’s next pick to head the budget office.

It’s possible that Tanden decided to withdraw her nomination because of additional opposition from Democrats such as centrist Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.) or skepticism from Senate Budget Committee Chairman Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), who said last week that the nominee didn’t appear to have the votes to secure confirmation.

Tanden’s nomination ran into serious trouble on Feb. 19 when Sen. Joe Manchin (W.Va.), a key Democratic centrist, announced he would oppose her.

Democrats control a 50-50 Senate because Vice President Kamarla Harris has the tie-breaking vote.

As a result Democrats usually can’t afford any defections but Biden officials had some hope last week that Murkowski could be persuaded to vote for Tanden to make up for Manchin’s “no” vote.

But Tanden’s nomination suffered another setback when the Senate Budget and Homeland Security Committees cancelled scheduled votes.

“It was kind of going that relation last week when they moved those two committee hearings,” Murkowski said of last week’s postponement of two committee meetings to vote on Tanden.

“I don’t think she thought she was going to be pulled,” Murkowski said, based on her conversation with the nominee during a sit-down meeting Monday.

Murkowski said she went into that meeting “with an open mind” and turned the session into “Alaska 101” in which they discussed issues ranging from why the Centers for Disease Control “was important for getting movement on a conditional no-sale order” to “every project that comes up with what we’re doing with murdered, missing and indigenous women.”

The Alaska senator said he gave Tanden “the courtesy of a conversation as I do with just about every nominee who asks for one.”

“She’s really a smart woman, I’ll tell you that,” she said of Tanden.

Asked if she asked the administration for any specific concessions such as on oil and gas drilling in Alaska, Murkowski said she has made extensive efforts to educate Biden administration officials and potential officials about the numerous federal land restrictions affecting her state.

“I show you the map about my roadless areas,” she said. “I go through all of the land management structure and say this is the challenge I have with my state right now,” noting the “pause” Biden has imposed on oil and gas development in the National Petroleum Reserve in Alaska.

But Murkowski said she didn’t ask for any quid pro quo or commitment from the White House in exchange for backing Tanden.

“If you’re asking [did I ask,] ‘If I do this, will you do that?’ No,’” she said.

Instead, Murkowski is walking nominees such as Tanden and Biden’s choice for attorney general, Merrick Garland, through the issues facing her state and asking, “What can you do to help me?”

“We’ve got an industry that is really in a fragile position right now because of the administration’s executive orders,” she said of Biden’s orders on oil and gas drilling. “We need some focus, we need some attention.

“I said to Tanden, ‘Look the North Slope Area, this is called the National Petroleum Reserve for a reason. This is where we get x-percent of our revenues and walked her through many of the challenges we have,” she added.

Murkowski noted that Tanden “generated her own level of controversy” because of her leadership of the progressive think tank, the Center for American Progress, and “the very public-focused tweets” in which she criticized senators, sometimes harshly.

But the GOP senator said she wasn’t going to automatically dismiss the nominee.

“I said, no … I think it’s important to talk to her,” she said.

Tanden informed Biden in a letter Tuesday that she is withdrawing her nomination. She said she didn’t speak directly to Biden or White House chief of staff Ron Klain about Tanden.

“I appreciate how hard you and your team at the White House has worked to win my confirmation. Unfortunately, it now seems clear that there is no path forward to gain confirmation, and I do not want continued consideration of my nomination to be a distraction from your other priorities,” she wrote. 

Tags Bernie Sanders Joe Biden Joe Manchin Kyrsten Sinema Lisa Murkowski Merrick Garland Neera Tanden Ron Klain

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