Neera Tanden, President Biden’s pick to lead the White House budget office, took herself out of the running for the job on Tuesday after it became clear she likely did not have the votes to get confirmed.
The move marks the first high-profile personnel defeat for Mr. Biden as he assembles his Cabinet and comes after the White House repeatedly went to bat for the nominee in recent weeks — even as her confirmation appeared increasingly unlikely.
“I appreciate how hard you and your team at the White House has worked to win my confirmation,” Ms. Tanden said in a letter to Mr. Biden released by the White House. “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.”
Mr. Biden said he accepted Ms. Tanden‘s request and that he would find a spot for her that doesn’t require Senate confirmation.
“I have the utmost respect for her record of accomplishment, her experience and her counsel, and I look forward to having her serve in a role in my administration,” the president said. “She will bring valuable perspective and insight to our work.”
The White House had been holding out hope to win support from at least one Republican senator after Sen. Joe Manchin III, West Virginia Democrat, announced his opposition last month.
“I guess the message that it sends is that you really have to work your agenda extra hard in a 50-50 Senate and never make any assumptions,” said Sen. Lisa Murkowski, Alaska Republican, who met with Ms. Tanden on Monday and had been undecided.
Ms. Murkowski said the White House probably thought they had Mr. Manchin’s vote in the bag and didn’t need to make legitimate overtures to Republicans.
“Well, maybe it’s a lesson that you’re not always going to have Manchin,” she said.
The withdrawal could embolden Senate Republicans to dig in and redouble their efforts to sink additional Biden nominees like California Attorney General Xavier Becerra, the president’s pick to lead the Department of Health and Human Services.
“Tanden is a hyper-partisan bomb-thrower who doesn’t have the votes,” said Sen. Ben Sasse, Nebraska Republican, who encouraged lawmakers to now turn their focus to Mr. Becerra. “We don’t need a culture war super-soldier leading the Department of Health and Human Services.”
Ms. Tanden, president of the Center for American Progress, a liberal think tank, quickly became a lightning rod for criticism after Mr. Biden announced her as his pick for director of the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) last year.
Ms. Tanden is a veteran of the Clinton administration who later became a key architect of Obamacare in the early days of the Obama administration.
Republican senators swiftly condemned Ms. Tanden, a prolific tweeter, for her past social media attacks — many of which she ended up deleting.
Among other broadsides, she likened Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky to Voldemort, the villain from the Harry Potter series.
She has also irked many people on the left with her past clashes with Senate Budget Committee Chairman Bernard Sanders of Vermont, who never said publicly whether he planned to vote for her nomination or not.
The activist group RootsAction cheered news of the withdrawal.
“Tanden was the wrong choice to head a federal agency that is vital in the regulatory process,” the group said. “It strains credulity to contend that she would have been a true advocate for the public interest after many years of dutifully serving corporate interests.”
Her nomination became severely imperiled when Mr. Manchin said last month that he wouldn’t vote for her, citing her “overtly partisan statements.”
Two Senate panels, including Mr. Sanders’ committee, postponed anticipated votes last week on Ms. Tanden‘s nomination amid fears that she didn’t have the votes.
The White House repeatedly declined to weigh in publicly on anyone else and left progressives wondering why the administration was expending so much political energy trying to confirm such a controversial nominee.
White House press secretary Jen Psaki bristled at the notion that the White House was fighting harder for Ms. Tanden than they were to increase the federal minimum wage to $15 per hour.
“I think that’s mixing a few things kind of irresponsibly, if I’m just being totally honest,” Ms. Psaki told reporters on Monday. “She is somebody who has decades of experience. She is qualified. She is prepared to lead the budget team. And we’re continuing, of course, to fight for the confirmation of every nominee that the president puts forward.”
Facing a 50-50 Senate, the White House held out hope that they could convince at least one Senate Republican to support her nomination. Vice President Kamala Harris could then break the tie.
Ms. Tanden met with Ms. Murkowski this week to make her pitch. Other potentially friendly Republican senators such as Susan Collins of Maine and Mitt Romney of Utah had already signaled their opposition.
Ms. Murkowski said Tuesday that she went into the meeting with an open mind and that the White House didn’t specifically offer her anything in return for a yes vote on the Tanden nomination.
Sen. John Thune, South Dakota Republican, had suggested earlier Tuesday that the White House might have been dangling some Alaska-specific benefits in front of Ms. Murkowski if it meant winning her support on the nomination.
“She obviously wants to get their attention on some things that are important to her state,” Mr. Thune said. “And she’s got, as any senator does, particularly through the nomination process, quite a bit of leverage to do that.”
David Sirota, a former Sanders speechwriter and a fierce critic of Ms. Tanden, said any brewing White House deal with Ms. Murkowski likely would have been a lose-lose for the left.
“Though Neera’s nomination is done, we should never forget that Washington is filled with so many total psychopaths that it was considered a serious idea to offer planetary climate annihilation in exchange for a vote for Neera’s fancy White House title,” Mr. Sirota said on Twitter.
The White House will now have to find a Plan B.
Republicans signaled Tuesday that they would be inclined to support Shalanda Young for the post. The Senate Budget Committee held a hearing on Ms. Young’s nomination to be deputy director of OMB.
“You’ll get my support — maybe for both jobs,” said Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, the top Republican on the committee.
Ms. Young is the first Black woman to serve as staff director for the House Appropriations Committee.
Other names that had been mentioned for the post include 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.