Sen. Lisa Murkowski expressed concerns on Wednesday about the social media history of President Joe Biden’s nominee to be budget director, the latest warning sign for the White House since the Alaska Republican could seal Neera Tanden’s fate.
“It seems that in this world we’ve kind of gotten numb to derogatory tweets,” Murkowski told reporters in the Capitol. “I don’t think that that’s a model that we want to set for anybody whether it’s a nominee, whether it’s a President or whether it’s a senator. So I’d like us all to cool that.”
Asked if a recently resurfaced Tanden tweet attacking the senator could affect her vote, Murkowsi said, “I suggested to the White House that my colleagues were being very critical of the statements, and rightly so and I think some of (the tweets) were clearly over the top.”
Murkowski said she was trying to simply look at Tanden’s “competence” in evaluating whether to support her nomination. “Apparently I’m going to have to do more looking into what she thinks about me,” she added.
Murkowski’s comments are significant since Tanden’s nomination has stalled amid stiff Republican opposition in the 50-50 Senate and the plans of one centrist Democrat, West Virginia’s Joe Manchin, to vote against her on the floor. That means Democratic leaders need to keep all of their members in line and pick up one Republican vote, with Murkowski the lone Republican at risk of defecting. Otherwise, Tanden would be the first nominee to be rejected by the Senate in Biden’s young presidency.
Yet Democrats have their own problems: Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, the Arizona Democrat who sits on one of the two key committees that were scheduled to vote on the nomination on Wednesday. But just two hours before the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee was scheduled to vote, that meeting was abruptly scrapped with Democrats and the White House giving Sinema more time to take a position on the nominee. Sinema refused to comment multiple times when approached in the Capitol on Wednesday.
The chairmen of the two relevant committees, Sens. Gary Peters, a Democrat from Michigan, and Bernie Sanders, an independent from Vermont, both signaled they may still hold votes in their panels once support for her nomination is locked up. But no votes are scheduled as of yet.
“I think it’s no secret she’s lacking the votes right now, and she’s working hard to try to get the votes,” Sanders said.
Murkowski, who is up for reelection next year and voted to convict former President Donald Trump at his impeachment trial, said she has heard from White House officials about Tanden and noted that she is still undecided. She has not spoken to Biden or Tanden herself but says that the White House has offered to make Tanden available.
Asked what the White House has said to her about why Tanden should be confirmed, Murkowski said she was told: “The President nominated her.”
Murkowski, who does not sit on the two committees considering the nomination, conceded she had not yet fully vetted the nominee herself — so much so that she was unaware of a 2017 tweet that recently surfaced that attacked the Alaska Republican for supporting the GOP tax law. “You know, we know, and everyone knows this is all garbage. Just stop,” Tanden wrote at the time.
Murkowski was unaware of that tweet and stopped to read it on a reporter’s phone.
“That goes to show how much homework I still have to do about her if I didn’t even know that she sent out a tweet about me,” Murkowski responded.
Tanden has expressed regret for her past tweets, while deleting scores of them, and has vowed to work with Republicans in a bipartisan way.
And Democrats have been sharply critical of Republicans — who mostly ignored Trump’s incendiary and inflammatory tweets for the past four years — but are now aghast at Tanden’s past comments.
Senate Minority Whip John Thune, a Republican of South Dakota, argued he’s “personally not worried about tweets.”
“I’m not concerned about tweets, but I think her record is pretty extensive of being very partisan and there was a concern about whether or not that carries over to the job, which is an important one and one where she’s gonna have to work with people on the other side,” he said.
Yet Thune and other Republicans backed ideologically-driven conservatives to the same post in the Trump era.
The White House — which has privately begun looking at alternative candidates — publicly reiterated its support for Tanden’s nomination after the votes were postponed, with press secretary Jen Psaki saying 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.”