WASHINGTON – Neera Tanden, President Biden’s candidate to head the Office of Administration and Budget, suffered a major setback on Monday when two moderate Republicans said they would not support her nomination, potentially ruining their chances of confirmation.
Statements of opposition by Senators Susan Collins from Maine and Mitt Romney from Utah, two Republicans willing to work with the Biden administration, have further improved Ms. Tanden’s chances in an evenly divided Senate. Three senators in four days have announced plans to vote against them after Senator Joe Manchin III, Democrat of West Virginia, first publicly opposed their endorsement.
A White House official said Monday that the government remained behind Ms. Tanden’s nomination, but its path to confirmation was tightening. Their failure to win confirmation would be the first sacrifice for Mr Biden, who so far has won Senate support for several other cabinet candidates, even though many candidates have not yet received the full Senate vote.
Ms. Tanden’s fate consumed the White House Monday as continued questions about her history attacking Republicans and progressive Democrats threatened to undermine Mr Biden’s promise to bring a unified tone to Washington. When White House press secretary Jen Psaki repeatedly urged whether Mr Biden had any issues with Ms. Tanden’s social media practices, she avoided responding directly and focused on the candidate’s qualifications.
“The president would not have nominated her if he hadn’t believed she would be an excellent OMB director,” Ms Psaki said at a press conference at the White House, adding that she disagreed with critics who concluded that Ms. Tanden is not the right choice for the job.
Ms. Tanden’s nomination is largely jeopardized by statements she has made in the past, particularly on social media, in which she has voiced partisan and often personal criticism of both parties’ lawmakers. Republican lawmakers have increasingly questioned whether they would be able to deliver the kind of “unity” Mr Biden promised.
Ms. Collins and Mr. Romney cited Ms. Tanden’s approach to social media – namely, a relentless stream of critical tweets that were tacitly deleted prior to their confirmation hearings this month – as the reason for their opposition. Ms. Collins was among the recipients of Ms. Tanden’s online anger, which extended to lawmakers as well as activists from both parties.
“Your previous actions have shown exactly the kind of hostility President Biden promised to overcome,” Ms. Collins said, adding that Ms. Tanden “has neither the experience nor the temperament” for the position. Ms. Collins concluded the candidate’s decision to silently clean up portions of her social media feed with “concerns about her commitment to transparency.”
Shortly after that statement, a spokeswoman for Mr Romney confirmed the senator’s opposition, noting, “He believes it is difficult to return to comity and respect with a candidate who has put out a thousand mean tweets.” It was unclear whether that would be enough to draw the nomination.
“Senator Manchin’s public statement clearly makes this a challenge,” Illinois Senator Richard J. Durbin, the No. 2 Democrat, told reporters Monday. “We need to find support on the Republican side of the Ganges to balance this vote.”
While at least one Republican woman, Senator Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, refused to say whether she had made a decision on Ms. Tanden’s nomination, others of the opposition agreed. Among them was Senator Rob Portman, an Ohio Republican who served as director of the Office of Management and Budget during the George W. Bush administration.
“I think she just burned down her bridges at some point,” Texas Republican Senator John Cornyn told reporters. “So I’m sure that if she does something different, she will have a great future, but not as an OMB director.”
So far, the White House has indicated that it is lagging behind Ms. Tanden. Ms. Psaki said in a statement following Ms. Collins’s decision that Ms. Tanden “is an accomplished policy expert” and that the administration “continues to work towards her endorsement by working with both parties”.
Ms Psaki reiterated this support at a press conference Monday afternoon, calling Ms. Tanden “a brilliant policy expert with experience at the highest levels of government”. She added that the candidate had broad support and “worked with partners from across the ideological spectrum.”
“The president nominated her because he believes she would be an outstanding OMB director,” said Ms. Psaki. When asked if the White House still believes Ms. Tanden has some way of validation, Ms. Psaki replied, “We are.” She also said the White House “phoned” and called Republicans and Democrats over the weekend to ask To get support.
Ms. Tanden did not immediately respond to a request for comment about whether she intended to stay in the running for the job. She had apologized during her confirmation hearings with lawmakers, saying she regretted her tone and swore to work with members of both parties.
Mr Biden nominated them before the Democrats regained control of the Senate in January, which took lawmakers and aides by surprise given their history of inflammatory utterances. Ms. Tanden’s outlook has been slim for a long time, given her criticism of Republicans and progressive Democrats, after serving as an advisor to Hillary Clinton on her 2016 bid for the presidency.
During her confirmation hearings before two Senate committees earlier this month, Ms. Tanden apologized several times for personal attacks she’d perpetrated on Twitter over the years. She said she deleted more than 1,000 tweets shortly after the November election because she regretted her tone.
Although she promised to radically change her communication style if she took on the job of budget manager, Republicans exposed Ms. Tanden with her comments on “Moscow Mitch” – a reference to Kentucky Senator Mitch McConnell, the Republican leader – and her suggestion that “Vampires have more hearts than Ted Cruz,” the Republican Senator from Texas.
Ms. Tanden has the support of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, but conservative political action groups and liberal activists have mobilized against her nomination, suggesting she will have a hard time finding support from other Republicans.
“Neera Tanden is an Obamacare architect, a cheerleader for the Green New Deal, and an advocate for socialism in America,” said David M. McIntosh, president of the Club for Growth, this month. “Any senator interested in working with OMB to stimulate – not destroy – the economy should vehemently oppose this nomination.”
Republicans weren’t the only ones confronting Ms. Tanden. Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont, the chair of the Budget Committee, asked her to reflect on some of the things she had said about him and his progressive allies over the years.
“There have been vicious attacks against progressives, people I have worked with personally,” Sanders said at the hearing. He also grilled her over the millions of dollars in corporate donations she’d endorsed as the executive director of the Center for American Progress, a liberal think tank. The senator added that he had concerns about whether Ms. Tanden was bound by business interests in confirming.
Mr Sanders has not publicly stated whether he will vote for Mrs Tanden.
Progressives tried to derail the nomination further on Monday.
Activist group RootsAction coordinated a Twitter “storm” of images and hashtags to encourage Senators, including Mr. Sanders, to turn down Ms. Tanden. The group noted the donations received from foreign governments by the Center for American Progress and their previous comments supporting cuts in social safety net programs.
“Tanden has become known as one of the best-known anti-progressive voices in the neoliberal establishment,” the group said in a background document.
However, some Democrats argued that Mr Biden should not withdraw Ms. Tanden’s nomination after voting against the Trump administration candidates they viewed as unqualified and Republicans watched dodging questions on social media posts.
“She qualified,” said Senator Jon Tester, Democrat of Montana. “Anyone who can drive both the left and the right crazy has to be qualified.”
Ms. Tanden’s nomination was supported by some progressive groups who feared that Mr. Biden would select someone with deep corporate relationships for the job. Jeff Hauser, founder of the Revolving Door Project, said Monday it was surprising that senators would block a candidate for her tone on Twitter.
“For the past decade, the Senate has regularly stamped mediocre or worse cabinet appointments,” he said. “It’s not surprising that the rare exception to this norm is based on feelings hurt by rash tweets, and that senators vote more on ego than substance.”