Of all Joe Biden’s nominees, one was always going to have the hardest time. Neera Tanden, nominated to lead the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), was already controversial before Mr Biden picked her – and her hearings before the Senate Budget Committee failed to neutralise her single biggest problem: her history of tearing into opponents of both parties on Twitter.
The senator who first signalled Ms Tanden was in genuine trouble was Joe Manchin, the West Virginia Democrat whose swing vote will determine the fate of much of the Biden agenda. Announcing he would not back her, he specifically cited the tone of her public persona.
“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,” he said in his announcement.
That leaves Ms Tanden needing all 49 remaining Democrats to get behind her, with at least Republican crossing the floor to join them. After Mr Manchin backed away from her, Mitt Romney and Susan Collins also said they would vote no on her nomination, ruling out two of the most moderate Republican votes – and even some Democrats have not yet committed to voting for her.
But whatever the fate of her nomination, Mr Manchin and others voting against Ms Tanden are increasingly being criticised from the left for turning against not just Mr Biden’s embattled OMB pick, but also other women nominees of colour, among them Deb Haaland, who would be the first Native American to lead the Department of the Interior.
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Among those calling Mr Manchin out was Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who pointed out that Mr Manchin voted to confirm Jeff Sessions as Mr Trump’s first attorney general despite his dubious history on racial matters.
Also at issue is the fact that many of the senators now opposing Ms Tanden, including Mr Manchin, voted to confirm Richard Grenell as ambassador to Germany despite his own behaviour on Twitter, which included not just scathing political attacks but degrading remarks about various women’s bodies and appearance (Mr Grenell later served as acting director of national intelligence).
Mr Manchin also voted to confirm former attorney general Bill Barr, another highly partisan figure.
That Mr Manchin and others would support these nominees despite their belligerence and divisive dispositions while turning up their noses at Ms Tanden’s tweets has not been lost on their critics. With Ms Haaland’s nomination coming up, they are increasingly pointing to the apparent hypocrisy of turning away from women of colour after backing white conservative men who behaved in a similar way, and arguably far worse.
If Ms Tanden’s nomination fails altogether, it will be seen by many as an aberration even in these hyper-partisan times. While Senate confirmation processes are inevitably subject to partisan considerations, most of the key Biden nominees so far confirmed did not have to clear particularly daunting hurdles to get to the cabinet.
The White House has insisted that it has the votes to secure Ms Tanden’s nomination; press secretary Jen Psaki told reporters on Tuesday that “there is one candidate to lead the budget department – her name is Neera Tanden”.
It is true that Ms Tanden has for years been enmeshed in partisan campaign politics to a degree unlike most other Biden nominees.
She has called Mitch McConnell “Voldemort” and Tom Cotton “a fraud” and said that “vampires have more heart than Ted Cruz”.
Ms Tanden also repeatedly clashed with progressives and issued routine swipes at Senator Bernie Sanders and his 2016 campaign, including accusing Russia of doing “a lot more to help Bernie than the DNC’s random internal e-mails did to help” Hillary Clinton, the Democratic nominee.
That she also served on the staff of the 2016 Clinton campaign as well as heading up an ideologically centrist Democratic-aligned policy organisation was always going to add friction to her ascent to the cabinet.
But the fact is that beyond Mr Manchin, the Republican senators who have declined to support Ms Tanden on grounds of incivility have been slated for doing so after spending years declining to sanction Mr Trump, whose histrionic Twitter presence was only shut down after the US Capitol was violently stormed by supporters he had whipped into a frenzy with years of false claims about his political enemies.
Most Republican senators routinely declined to comment on Mr Trump’s tweets, sometimes claiming they had not seen them even when they led the news cycle for days at a time. By contrast, Republican John Kennedy of Louisiana told Ms Tanden at a hearing that he was “disturbed about your personal comments about people”, and put it to her that “you called Senator Sanders everything but an ignorant slut”.
He also asked her if she had really meant what she said in her hundreds of now-deleted tweets when she sent them. After acknowledging that the last four years of political discourse had been poisonous “on all sides”, she simply said: “I really feel badly about them, senator.”
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