- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 24, 2021

President Biden’s nomination of Neera Tanden to lead the White House budget office was on the brink of collapse Wednesday in the first major stumble of his young administration.

The White House vowed to fight for Ms. Tanden, but two Senate panels postponed expected votes and lawmakers were discussing alternatives — strong signals that her confirmation to lead the Office of Management and Budget is in serious jeopardy.

“I’m not saying she’s a smoked turkey, but the smoker’s heating up,” said Sen. John Kennedy, Louisiana Republican.

Senate Budget Committee Chairman Bernard Sanders of Vermont said that, for the moment, Ms. Tanden doesn’t have the votes to get confirmed.

“Tomorrow she may,” Mr. Sanders said.

White House press secretary Jen Psaki insisted that the delayed committee votes were not a setback. She said the president’s team would continue “to fight for all of our nominees, continuing to do the outreach needed.”

A failure of the Tanden nomination threatens to embolden Republicans who are intent on sinking such other Biden picks as California Attorney General Xavier Becerra for health and human services secretary.

The 50-50 partisan divide in the Senate means Democrats’ majority control of the chamber relies on Vice President Kamala Harris’ tiebreaking vote, making Mr. Biden’s nominees vulnerable to defeat if just one Democrat breaks ranks.

Sen. Joe Manchin III of West Virginia dealt a powerful blow to Ms. Tanden last week when he announced his opposition to her nomination.

With zero votes to spare, potentially friendly Republican senators such as Susan M. Collins of Maine and Mitt Romney of Utah also announced their opposition.

Only about two dozen Cabinet-level nominees or announced picks have been defeated, withdrawn or had no action taken on them, according to Senate archives.

Presidents Trump and Obama each had three failed nominations or announced picks, according to the Senate.

Senators’ objections to Ms. Tanden include her prolific and derogatory social media history, which she attempted to scrub by deleting more than 1,000 tweets. Her venomous Twitter posts burned political figures including Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, Kentucky Republican, whom she likened to the villain Voldemort in the “Harry Potter” series, and Mr. Sanders, who she said was helped by Russia in his 2016 run for the Democratic presidential nomination.

Sen. Lisa Murkowski, an Alaska Republican who has broken with her party in the past, has not indicated which way she will vote.

A reporter showed her a tweet by Ms. Tanden from 2017 in which the nominee told Ms. Murkowski she sounded “high on your own supply” for touting a cut in the corporate tax rate.

“Should I ask her my own supply of what?” Ms. Murkowski said. “Oh, the tax bill that actually helped people in my state and helped us open ANWR.

“I was trying to look at competence, but apparently I’m going to have to do more looking into what she thinks about me,” she said, chuckling.

Backers of Ms. Tanden say the growing opposition smacks of sexism after many senators voted to confirm Richard Grenell, a prolific Twitter troll, as Mr. Trump’s ambassador to Germany.

Mr. Manchin said that’s ridiculous: “Oh, come on. It’s not personal.”

Ms. Tanden served in the Clinton administration before becoming one of the architects of Obamacare in the early days of the Obama administration. Her most recent major public role is president of the Center for American Progress, a liberal think tank.

The nomination of Ms. Tanden, a close ally of Hillary Clinton, immediately ran into opposition from allies of Mr. Sanders.

“If you were on the left, you kind of viewed it as … a finger in the chest saying, ‘Hey, we won, you lost,’” said Pete D’Alessandro, an adviser to Mr. Sanders’ 2016 and 2020 campaigns. “You had a million other places you can put her. ‘We’re not only going to send her to a place where she has to go through your committee; we’re not even going to give you a heads-up.’”

Ms. Psaki did not deny reports that Mr. Biden failed to notify Mr. Sanders before he announced Ms. Tanden’s nomination last year.

“There often was consultation with a limited number of members. It usually, typically wasn’t very broad in advance of a selection,” she said. “Sen. Sanders is someone who we consult with regularly, at many levels — including the president’s level — and expect we’ll work with him on confirmations but also [a range of] the president’s objectives.”

Mr. Sanders has not said publicly whether he plans to support the nomination.

At her confirmation hearing, he appeared less concerned about Ms. Tanden’s mean tweets than he did about the corporate donations her group has taken over the years.

Senate Democrats attempted to rally support behind the president’s pick.

“The idea that the Republicans are going to complain [about] someone who has sharp elbows on Twitter is pretty outrageous,” said Sen. Elizabeth Warren, Massachusetts Democrat.

Asked Wednesday whether the support of Sen. Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona is now in doubt, Senate Majority Whip Richard J. Durbin of Illinois said he wasn’t going to throw any colleagues under the bus.

“We’re doing kind of a full-scale effort, including the White House and members, to find support,” Mr. Durbin said.

Ms. Sinema, another more moderate Democrat, sits on the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, which had been slated to take up the nomination Wednesday. A public “no” vote from her could well have sunk Ms. Tanden after Mr. Manchin’s stated opposition.

Mr. D’Alessandro pointed out that newly elected Democratic Sens. Mark Kelly of Arizona and Raphael Warnock of Georgia both face voters again in 2022.

“They both got elected as people who were going to go to Washington and be people that bring people together,” he said.

He said there might be some thinking within the caucus of the implications of voting early in their terms to confirm someone like Ms. Tanden.

“The first ads against them are going to be, they came to Washington saying they were going to bring people together and their first vote was to confirm this person that absolutely splits people apart,” he said. “So I don’t think it’s just Sinema.”

Despite the White House’s outward confidence, the names of several potential replacements are being floated as possible backup plans.

The Congressional Black Caucus reportedly offered support for elevating Shalanda Young, whom Mr. Biden nominated to be deputy OMB director.

Other names included Gene Sperling, a top economic adviser in the Obama and Clinton administrations, and Ann O’Leary, a former top staffer to California Gov. Gavin Newsom.

Ms. O’Leary vouched for Ms. Tanden over the weekend after Mr. Manchin announced his opposition.

“Yes, she’s a tough cookie, but it’s because she’s fighting so hard for the most vulnerable,” Ms. O’Leary said on Twitter. “@POTUS is going to get her confirmed and I’ll be cheering!”

The Budget Committee and the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee postponed expected votes Wednesday.

Sen. Gary Peters, the Michigan Democrat who is chairman of the homeland security committee, said members wanted more time to review the nomination.

Asked whether he was optimistic that Ms. Tanden will be confirmed, Mr. Peters said: “I’m always cautiously optimistic about everything, so that’s consistent. But discussions are going on right now.”

• David Sherfinski can be reached at dsherfinski@washingtontimes.com.

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