The Biden administration’s path to a fully staffed Cabinet hit its largest hurdle yet on Tuesday evening, when the White House announced that it was pulling the nomination of Neera Tanden, president of the Center for American Progress, to lead the Office of Management and Budget, long after it had become clear that she would not have the votes to be confirmed by the U.S. Senate.
“I have accepted Neera Tanden’s request to withdraw her name from nomination for Director of the Office of Management and Budget,” President Joe Biden said in a statement released on Tuesday evening. “I have the utmost respect for her record of accomplishment, her experience and her counsel, and I look forward to having her serve in a role in my administration. She will bring valuable perspective and insight to our work.
When Biden nominated Tanden, a longtime Clintonworld loyalist, to lead OMB, the choice was seen by many progressives as an insult to the left wing of the Democratic Party that she’d once sought to thwart. But it was the apparent disinclination of Sen. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, thought to be one of the most Democrat-friendly Republicans in the Senate, to support Tanden’s nomination that appears to have sealed her fate.
Tanden’s increasingly troubled nomination had been on the skids since Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV), the party’s most conservative senator, expressed his unwillingness to vote in support of Tanden, despite multiple in-person overtures and sunny predictions from the White House that they would find the votes for confirmation.
“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 released by his office last Friday afternoon, in which he implied that Tanden’s innumerable tweets lambasting both conservatives and leftists over the years played the biggest role in his decision. “For this reason, I cannot support her nomination.”
Before and immediately following her nomination, Tanden went on a tweet-deleting spree, scrubbing more than 1,000 posts from her account, many of which attacked members of the Senate in deeply personal terms: Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) was likened to a “vampire,” Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) to Voldemort, and Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME) was simply dubbed “the worst.”
During Tanden’s confirmation hearing earlier this month, many members indicated that her past antagonism still stung.
“Your attacks were not just made against Republicans. They were vicious attacks made against progressives—people who I have worked with, me personally,” said Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) during Tanden’s hearing before the Senate Budget Committee, which he now chairs, earlier this month. “At a time when we need serious work on serious issues and not personal attacks on anybody, whether they’re on the left or right, can you reflect a little bit about some of your decisions and the personal statements that you have made in recent years?”
In addition to deleting many—but not all—of her most inflammatory tweets, Tanden spent much of her confirmation hearing apologizing for them, and vowing not to let her “passion” get in the way of running the nation’s vast federal bureaucracy as OMB director.
“It’s really important for me to demonstrate that I can work with others, and I look forward to taking that burden,” Tanden told Sanders. “I apologize to people on either the left or right who are hurt by what I’ve said.”
Tanden was seen as having little chance of a Senate-confirmed position in the administration until the Georgia runoff elections gave Democrats a 50-50 majority in the chamber. Even with that slim majority, however, she faced a steep road to confirmation: Her work as a senior adviser to Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign made her deeply unpopular among the Democratic left as well as among most Republicans; her attacks on McConnell had made her a powerful enemy; and her #extremelyonline behavior was “cringey,” a White House ally told The Daily Beast, even for those who agreed with Tanden on policy.
As Tanden’s confirmation looked increasingly in doubt, however, the White House maintained that there was a path to a winning vote in the Senate—even when a committee vote for her nomination was tabled in order to continue lobbying for votes.
“She has rolled up her sleeves, she’s very engaged in doing outreach to senators on the Hill and answering any questions that they have,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki told reporters on Wednesday, characterizing the delay in the committee votes as merely the committee leadership working to “continue to work to build support for her nomination.”
Democrats have already quietly begun pushing a replacement for Tanden’s nomination to head OMB, which effectively manages the executive branch’s budget, policies and acquisitions. One name that has been mentioned frequently is Shalanda Young, Biden’s nominee to serve as OMB’s deputy director. Young, a longtime staffer on the House Appropriations Committee, has been a favorite of the Congressional Black Caucus and of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.
Young “brings with her a wealth of information about the process,” Rep. Lisa Blunt Rochester (D-DE), told The Hill, calling Young “more than qualified.” A longtime staffer on House Appropriations told The Daily Beast said that Young is “super intelligent, incredibly competent, [and] loved by staff and members.”
“She doesn’t take bullshit,” the staffer added. “Always got along great with Republicans as well.”
Psaki, asked about consideration of Young if Tanden’s nomination were to go down, said that nobody was under consideration but the nominee herself.
“There’s one nominee to lead the budget department,” Psaki said. “Her name is Neera Tanden.
But Republicans on the Senate Budget Committee made their feelings known clearly on Tuesday, when Young faced her own confirmation hearing.
“You’ll get my support, maybe for both jobs,” Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) told her. “You might talk me out of voting for you, but I doubt it.”