The White House on Tuesday gave up its fight to have Neera Tanden lead the Office of Management and Budget, accepting the first Cabinet-level defeat for a Biden nominee. President Biden said in a statement Tuesday evening that he had accepted Tanden’s request to withdraw her nomination and that he looked forward to having her serve in another role in his administration.
Tanden’s nomination was met with immediate opposition. Senators took issue with “mean tweets” targeted at lawmakers in both parties that Tanden had posted when she was president of the Center for American Progress, a left-leaning think tank. A number of key senators — most notably Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) — had announced that they would oppose her nomination
Tanden’s supporters argued that the criticisms of her social media posts was unfair and hypocritical given the how Republicans had responded, or failed to respond, to offensive tweets and comments made by President Trump throughout his term in office.
But it became clear that Tanden had no path to confirmation after Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) reportedly signaled to the White House that she would be a no. The support of Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT), the chair of the Senate Budget Committee, and Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ) was reportedly also in doubt.
“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,” Tanden wrote in a letter to Biden released by the White House.
Why it matters: This is Biden’s first failed Cabinet nomination — but all recent presidents have suffered failed nominations. “It took President Barack Obama, for example, three attempts to find a commerce secretary and two tries to get a health and human services secretary confirmed,” CNN’s Kevin Liptak and Jeff Zeleny note. “By the time he departed office, President Donald Trump had all but given up on making high-profile nominations at all, preferring to name acting secretaries instead.”
Still, the failure underscores the narrow congressional margins the Biden administration faces as it tries to advance its agenda — and how the president will have to conserve his political capital for efforts like passing a massive Covid relief package.
The Tanden nomination, coupled with the relief bill changes mentioned above, further highlights the sway Manchin now has as a crucial vote in the Senate with the power to singlehandedly scuttle Biden’s plans — and that the White House may need to work harder than it thought to round up votes from centrist Republicans.
“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,” Murkowski reportedly said after the nomination was withdrawn. “I think they probably thought well, OK, well we’ll have Manchin right? So we don’t need a Republican. Well, maybe it’s a lesson that you’re not always going to have Manchin.”
What’s next for OMB: “The person viewed as a leading contender to be nominated in Tanden's place -- Shalanda Young, Biden's pick to be deputy OMB director -- had breezed through a confirmation hearing on Tuesday, earning praise even from conservative Republicans,” CNN notes, but the White House said Wednesday it won’t announce a new pick to head OMB this week.
Another Biden pick faces sharp partisan divisions: The Senate Finance Committee split 14-14 along party lines Wednesday on whether to advance the nomination of Xavier Becerra for Health and Human Services Secretary. “He is the first of President Joe Biden's Cabinet nominees not to be favorably reported out of committee, which will force Democrats to bring up a motion to discharge his nomination and hold an additional four hours of debate before a confirmation vote,” Politico reports.
The first Black chair of Council of Economic Advisers: It’s not all bad news for Biden on the confirmation front, though. The Senate on Tuesday confirmed Gina Raimondo, the former governor of Rhode Island, as Commerce secretary and Cecilia Rouse, a Princeton economist, as chair of the White House Council of Economic Advisers. Rouse will be the first Black CEA chair, and the fourth woman to head the council in its 75-year-history.