Two hearings that were scheduled to vote on Neera Tanden’s nomination to be the director of the Office of Management and Budget were unexpectedly postponed Wednesday, a possible indication that her imperiled nomination may be being pulled.
Senators want more time to consider the nomination, an official on the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee who is familiar with the matter tells CNN. A senior aide on the other panel, the Senate Budget Committee, told CNN its hearing also was postponed and that Chairman Sen. Bernie Sanders, an independent who caucuses with Democrats and who has clashed with Tanden in the past, personally informed Tanden on the phone Tuesday night about the committee’s plans to postpone the markup.
Tanden faces resistance from Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin, a centrist from West Virginia, and a wide array of Republicans who have said they will not back her because of her past partisan criticisms aimed at lawmakers in sharp attacks at odds with Biden’s pledges of civility and unity.
The White House — which has begun looking at alternative candidates — publicly reiterated its support for Tanden’s nomination after the votes were postponed, and officials have expressed hope that if Tanden were to survive the committee votes, it would give them the leverage to convince a small group of senators who had yet reveal their positions to support her.
But the political reality is that the votes to push her through an evenly divided Senate do not appear to exist. Tanden stands a chance if she wins the support of moderate Democratic Sen. Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona and Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, but it is far from clear that will happen.
If the nomination stalls out, it would be the first defeat of a high-profile Biden pick subject to Senate approval and would underscore the narrow margin of error Democrats must contend with in a Senate with a 50-50 partisan split.
Sinema sits on the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee and has so far refused to say how she will vote. One source told CNN the committee is specifically concerned with Sinema’s status and did not want to risk taking the vote on Tanden without knowing how she planned to vote. Her office declined to comment to CNN on Wednesday morning.
Asked if he believes all Democrats on his panel will support the nominee, Sen. Gary Peters, the Michigan Democrat who chairs the Homeland Security committee, told CNN on Tuesday, “I haven’t talked to all of them but I believe we will.”
Murkowski has indicated she won’t make a decision until after the committee vote. “I’ve got time,” she said when asked when she would make her position known.
Sanders would not say Tuesday if he planned to support Tanden for the position. The Vermont senator was not consulted before Tanden was nominated to lead OMB and heard of her pick through news media reports, a source close to the process told CNN Wednesday.
White House reiterates public support
The White House remained supportive of Tanden Wednesday evening, with chief of staff Ron Klain telling MSNBC’s Joy Reid, “We’re fighting our guts out to get her confirmed.”
“If Neera Tanden is not confirmed, she will not become the budget director. We will find some other place for her to serve in the administration that doesn’t require Senate confirmation,” Klain said. “But let me be clear, we’re going to get Neera Tanden confirmed. That’s what we’re working for, and she will be, she will prove her critics wrong as an outstanding budget director that works with people on both sides of the aisle.”
Pressed on Tanden’s divisive comments, Klain conceded that “there are some hot tweets there,” but pointed to her previous apology.
His comments came after White House press secretary Jen Psaki told CNN after the vote was postponed that Tanden “is a leading policy expert who brings critical qualifications to the table during this time of unprecedented crisis.”
Later Wednesday afternoon, Psaki said that the White House is “fighting” on Tanden’s behalf and declined to characterize the postponement as a “setback.”
“As the President repeated yesterday, we’re fighting for her nomination and she and our team remain in close contact,” Psaki said during her press briefing.
Asked by CNN’s Kaitlan Collins whether Tanden has offered to withdraw the nomination, Psaki declined to say yes or no.
“That’s not the stage we’re in,” she said.
A person close to Tanden says officials realize her confirmation is highly unlikely, but the White House — including Klain and President Joe Biden himself, who is close to Tanden — want to play it out.
They do believe an argument over double standards and sexism in the way Tanden is being handled is serious, real and helpful to their case — if not to save her confirmation but to frame the discussion. Recent op-eds, tweets and other public arguments have been part of an effort to make this point, administration officials believe, as well as allowing the West Wing to not immediately cave to Manchin.
One administration official told CNN the White House is still looking for votes right now, however unlikely that may seem. They really don’t want to give up on it before it’s totally dead and don’t see a downside in doing so. Another official also suggested they didn’t want it to appear like Manchin has the sole ability to derail their agenda.
As for replacements, the Hill is strongly pushing Shalanda Young, who last month was nominated as deputy director of OMB. They believe her confirmation is assured, officials say, because of her strong relationships with both parties.
When asked about the possibility of nominating Young, Psaki declined to engage.
“There’s one nominee to lead the budget department, her name’s Neera Tanden … We are focused on fighting for the person the President has nominated,” she said.
Klain is far closer to Ann O’Leary — and we know this is a Cabinet where friendships and connections are key — but there is a worry that her confirmation could devolve into a Gavin Newsom debate, given her former role as his chief of staff.
Concerns over ‘overtly partisan statements’
Tanden apologized and expressed regret over her past tweets during Senate confirmation hearings earlier this month.
In a statement announcing his opposition to the nomination, Manchin said that Tanden’s comments on Twitter about Sanders and Republican colleagues, including Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, had led him to doubt she was the right fit.
“I have carefully reviewed Neera Tanden’s public statements and tweets that were personally directed towards my colleagues on both sides of the aisle from Senator Sanders to Senator McConnell and others. I believe her overtly partisan statements will have a toxic and detrimental impact on the important working relationship between members of Congress and the next director of the Office of Management and Budget,” Manchin said in a statement. “For this reason, I cannot support her nomination.”
Republican Sen. Susan Collins of Maine, who had been viewed as a potential swing vote, similarly expressed opposition over Tanden’s rhetoric.
In a statement, Collins cited Tanden’s “past actions” and said the OMB nominee does not have the “experience nor the temperament” to lead the office.
“Congress has to be able to trust the OMB director to make countless decisions in an impartial manner, carrying out the letter of the law and congressional intent,” Collins said. “Neera Tanden has neither the experience nor the temperament to lead this critical agency. Her past actions have demonstrated exactly the kind of animosity that President Biden has pledged to transcend.”
Collins also said that Tanden’s deletion of tweets before her confirmation was announced “raises concerns about her commitment to transparency.”
GOP Sen. John Cornyn of Texas on Tuesday called on Biden to withdraw the nomination given the stiff resistance she faces.
“My friendly advice to President Biden is to withdraw Neera Tanden’s nomination and select someone who at the very least has not … openly bashed people on both sides of the aisle that she happens to disagree with,” he said.