President Biden is doling out enviable consolation prizes for top administration picks who crash and burn on the road to Senate confirmation.
Neera Tanden began her new job Monday as White House senior adviser, two months after she withdrew her nomination to head the Office of Management and Budget. Years of mean tweets brought into question her judgment, temperament and ability to win support from the sitting senators and other lawmakers whom she had roasted.
Even so, Democrats were thrilled with her Oval Office gig. Sens. Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota and Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts were among those who tweeted their congratulations. Georgia Democratic power broker Stacey Abrams cheered Mr. Biden’s “good call.”
Meanwhile, Elizabeth Klein landed on her feet after the White House scuttled its plans to install her as second in command at the Interior Department and announced last month that she will serve as a senior counselor to Interior Secretary Deb Haaland.
Ms. Tanden, who previously headed the Center for American Progress, and Ms. Klein, who has been involved for years in climate litigation, ran afoul of Sen. Joe Manchin III, West Virginia Democrat, the critical swing vote on Biden nominees.
The beauty of such advisory roles is they offer the opportunity to exert considerable influence on policy and priorities without having to win Senate approval, a point not lost on the administration’s opponents.
“As we’ve now seen, Neera Tanden’s radical brand of leftism is at the heart and soul of the Biden administration,” said American Principles Project President Terry Schilling. “Of course they were going to find a place of influence for her despite the fact that they couldn’t even get her nomination through a Democrat-controlled Senate.”
But the president’s determination to find a slot for Ms. Tanden also met with disgust from the left, where the Hillary Clinton loyalist is considered a card-carrying member of the Democratic Party establishment.
“The fact that Neera Tanden and Rahm Emanuel are still getting jobs despite massive backlash against them is because the Democratic Party is just an entire grift of elitists protecting and propping up each other’s career,” tweeted Nick Cruse, National Ranked Choice Voting board member and podcaster, on his @SocialistMMA account.
Mr. Biden reportedly plans to tap Mr. Emanuel, the former Chicago mayor and longtime Democratic operative who was President Obama’s first chief of staff, as U.S. ambassador to Japan.
The danger for the Biden administration lies in entrusting such authority with political figures unable to pass muster in a Senate controlled by their own party, albeit by one vote.
“The Klein appointment represents the Biden administration’s model of finding homes for unconfirmables in other positions, often but not exclusively in the White House, from which they de facto exercise all of the power they were denied by being too extreme even for some in Biden’s own party, if with none of the de jure authority,” said Chris Horner, attorney for the Government Accountability & Oversight public interest law firm.
His firm filed a complaint last week on behalf of Energy Policy Advocates raising ethical questions about Ms. Klein’s work at the Bloomberg-funded New York University State Energy and Environmental Impact Center, which places prepaid climate lawyers with state attorneys general.
The federal lawsuit asks for an immediate response to the group’s Freedom of Information Act request for information on whether Ms. Klein has recused herself from matters involving 17 states and the District of Columbia, given her previous legal work at the center.
“The work performed by the Center and Ms. Klein for their various clients almost certainly means that Ms. Klein is prohibited from participating in any deliberation, decision or action pertaining to a substantial number of states, absent specific waivers from the Department of the Interior’s Ethics Office,” said the lawsuit.
Rob Schilling, the group’s executive director, accused the Interior Department of stonewalling by classifying the request as “complex” and refusing to waive fees, as the department had done for the organization in the past, and to treat the nonprofit group as a “commercial requester.”
He noted that the Interior Department’s press release announcing her senior counselor role made no mention of her position at the State Impact Center. She served as deputy director after joining the center at its founding in 2017.
The Interior Department declined to comment on the complaint involving Ms. Klein, who worked for the department under Presidents Clinton and Obama.
She was originally one of five women named in January to serve as deputy Cabinet secretaries. But her nomination was “never formally submitted to the United States Senate, and she will not be nominated to this position,” a White House spokesperson told E&E News in March.
Replacing her as the intended nominee is Tommy Beaudreau, who served as Interior Department chief of staff in the Obama administration.
Current Chief of Staff Jennifer Van der Heide announced Ms. Klein’s hiring and four others in an April 12 press release. “I have full confidence in their ability to carry out Interior’s mission,” she said.
Democratic National Committee Chairman Jaime Harrison tweeted his congratulations to Ms. Tanden. “When one door closes, others open,” he said.
He also gave a wink to the tweet controversy that helped upend her nomination. Her jabs included calling Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, Kentucky Republican, “Voldemort,” and Sen. Susan M. Collins, Maine Republican, “the worst.” She compared Sen. Ted Cruz, Texas Republican, to a vampire.
Said Mr. Harrison: “She will do a fantastic job and don’t worry about the tweets to Cruz & Co Neera. … I gotcha!”