Tanden’s path to confirmation closing fast

Hoped-for GOP backers fall away, leaving President Joe Biden's nominee to head budget office in the lurch

Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, left, and Sen. Joe Manchin III, D-W.Va., talk as they arrive in the Senate for votes on Feb. 4.  (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)
Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, left, and Sen. Joe Manchin III, D-W.Va., talk as they arrive in the Senate for votes on Feb. 4. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)
Posted February 22, 2021 at 11:26am, Updated at 5:32pm

President Joe Biden's choice to lead the Office of Management and Budget seems increasingly unlikely to be confirmed, a first for the new administration.

On Monday three GOP senators seen as potentially willing to cross the aisle and support Neera Tanden came out in opposition. With West Virginia Democrat Joe Manchin III also a "no," there were very few other possible backers that could salvage Tanden's confirmation.

Ohio Sen. Rob Portman, a former OMB director and the top Republican on the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs panel, became the latest member of his party to announce opposition to Tanden on Monday afternoon.

“I believe that the tone, the content, and the aggressive partisanship of some of Ms. Tanden’s public statements will make it more difficult for her to work effectively with both parties in this role,” Portman said in a statement.

Portman joins Utah GOP Sen. Mitt Romney and Maine Republican Susan Collins, who earlier Monday announced their opposition to Tanden.

“Senator Romney has been critical of extreme rhetoric from prior nominees, and this is consistent with that position," Romney's press secretary, Arielle Mueller, said in a statement. "He believes it’s hard to return to comity and respect with a nominee who has issued a thousand mean tweets.”

Most of the Senate Republican Conference was expected to vote against Tanden given her years of sharp criticism on Twitter and her more progressive policy stances.

But the loss of three Republicans who've shown a willingness to compromise and support other Biden nominees, along with at least one Democrat, could force Biden to pull her nomination unless some other GOP savior emerges. With the Senate tied 50-50, the White House needs at least one Republican to back Tanden after Manchin came out against her.

Alaska's Lisa Murkowski is another closely-watched Republican vote. Murkowski wouldn't say Monday night how she planned to vote on Tanden. "I'm still visiting," she told reporters.

Texas GOP Sen. John Cornyn said the wave of Republican opposition combined with Manchin’s “no” vote would likely end Tanden’s confirmation process.

“She's been a hyper-partisan and I think at some point she's just burned her bridges,” Cornyn said. “So I'm sure she'll have a great future doing something else, but not as OMB director.”

Romney is actually one of the Republicans Tanden has said nice things about, praising him for his stances last year in favor of the impeachment of President Donald Trump, his criticism of the Trump administration's COVID-19 vaccine rollout as well as his condemnation of Trump's efforts to overturn the election results.

"Thank you @MittRomney for putting the country and our democracy first," Tanden tweeted on Nov. 19, 10 days before word of Biden's plan to nominate her for OMB director emerged.

Collins is among the Republicans that Tanden has targeted in the past, calling her "the worst" due to her support for Supreme Court Justice Brett M. Kavanaugh during his 2018 confirmation process.

Still, Collins has been willing to cross the aisle on occasion and became one of six Republicans, along with Romney, to vote in favor of Biden's Homeland Security secretary nominee, Alejandro Mayorkas.

Collins dashed hopes that she might come out in support of Tanden, saying in a statement Monday that Tanden “has neither the experience nor the temperament to lead this critical agency."

The Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee and the Budget Committees are scheduled to vote Wednesday on whether to send Tanden’s nomination to the Senate floor.

Budget Chairman Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., who's also clashed with Tanden, has been coy about whether he’ll support Tanden’s nomination. On Friday he said he planned to meet with her early this week.

During her confirmation hearing, Sanders criticized Tanden’s past tweets as well as corporate donations the Center for American Progress received while Tanden was leading the think tank.

White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki repeatedly defended Tanden’s nomination Monday, saying the Biden administration continues to see a path to confirmation.

“She needs the majority of votes to get through and be confirmed as the OMB director. That's what we're working toward,” Psaki said.

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