Friday, February 26, 2021

Joe Biden facing first political defeat as president after Cabinet nominee backlash

Joe Biden facing first political defeat as president after Cabinet nominee backlash

US President Joe Biden is on the cusp of suffering his first political defeat since taking office, with one of his Cabinet nominees increasingly certain to be rejected by the Senate.

Under the American political system, presidents nominate individuals to serve in Cabinet positions, and then the Senate votes on whether or not to confirm them.

It takes a simple majority vote. In the current Senate, which is split 50/50, all Biden needs is unity from his own side, with Vice-President Kamala Harris able to cast the tie-breaking vote if necessary.

But therein lies the problem.

Biden has nominated Neera Tanden, a long-time Democratic Party operative, to serve as head of the Office of Management and Budget. Tanden currently serves as President of the Centre for American Progress, a left-leaning think tank.

She also has a history of making partisan statements, particularly online, against several of the senators whose votes she is now seeking.

For example, Tanden has previously referred to moderate Republican Susan Collins as “the worst”, and accused the party’s Senate leader Mitch McConnell of being soft on Russia, labelling him “Moscow Mitch”.

She has also criticised Bernie Sanders, who is technically an independent but caucuses with the Democrats.

“Your attacks were not just made against Republicans,” Sanders noted during one of Tanden’s hearings before the Senate earlier this month.

“There were vicious attacks against progressives, people who I have worked with, me personally.”

Neera Tanden appears before a Senate Committee. Photo / AP
Neera Tanden appears before a Senate Committee. Photo / AP

Tanden told Sanders she felt “badly” about her previous statements and would take a “radically different” approach if confirmed to Biden’s Cabinet.

But Tanden seemingly can’t escape her old words.

Some senators made it clear from the moment Tanden was nominated that they would not be supporting her.

“She’s not just a liberal ideologue. She’s a partisan activist who’s gone after senators of the majority party. She seems to have chosen a path that doesn’t lead to a Senate-confirmed office,” Republican Kevin Cramer said last year.

“I think, in light of her combative and insulting comments about many members of the Senate, mainly on our side of the aisle, that it creates certainly a problematic path,” said his colleague John Cornyn.

Then, on Friday, Democrat Joe Manchin announced he would vote against Tanden.

“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,” said Manchin.

“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.

“For this reason, I cannot support her nomination.”

Manchin’s decision ensured Tanden would need the support of at least one Republican senator. Reporters asked Biden whether he intended to withdraw her nomination.

“No,” the President replied.

“I think we’re going to find the votes to get her confirmed.”

Today, two moderate Republicans – Collins and Mitt Romney – declared they, too, would not support Tanden.

“Congress has to be able to trust the Office of Management and Budget 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.”

She raised the fact that Tanden deleted a series of partisan tweets before Biden announced her nomination, saying it raised “concerns” about her “commitment to transparency”.

“Senator Romney has been critical of extreme rhetoric from prior nominees, and this is consistent with that position,” Romney’s spokeswoman said.

“He believes it’s hard to return to comity and respect with a nominee who has issued 1000 mean tweets.”

Alaska Senator Lisa Murkowski has yet to make a decision. The moderate Republican’s support could still tip the vote on Tanden’s confirmation back to a 50/50 split.

During today’s White House media briefing, multiple reporters asked press secretary Jen Psaki about Tanden, and whether her previous statements were appropriate.

“The President would not have nominated her if he did not think she would be an excellent OMB director,” Psaki said.

One reporter drew Psaki’s attention to Biden’s promise to tone down the often combative rhetoric in US politics.

“The President, he said that there was going to be a new tone in Washington. Obviously Manchin and Collins do not feel this is a new tone. So how does the President sort of square that?” he asked.

“Have you asked Senator Manchin or Senator Collins whether they believe President Biden has a new tone?” Psaki asked him in return.

He replied that both senators expressed concerns with Tanden’s “tweets and language”.

“And we disagree on whether she is the right choice to lead OMB,” said Psaki.

“But that is a bit of an overstatement.”

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