OMB nominee Neera Tanden to get committee votes amid shaky prospects

Democrats struggle to find at least one Republican willing to back her

Neera Tanden, nominee to be director of the Office of Management and Budget, arrives for her confirmation hearing in front of the Senate Budget Committee on Feb. 10, 2021. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)
Neera Tanden, nominee to be director of the Office of Management and Budget, arrives for her confirmation hearing in front of the Senate Budget Committee on Feb. 10, 2021. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)
Posted February 23, 2021 at 8:19pm

Democrats remained optimistic Tuesday as the confirmation of Neera Tanden to be White House budget director faced increasingly long odds.

“We still think there’s a shot, a good shot,” President Joe Biden insisted, as he fought to save his choice to head the Office of Management and Budget. But Democrats were struggling to find at least one Republican willing to back Tanden and save the nomination in a 50-50 Senate.

Sensing momentum on his side, Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, called on Biden to withdraw the nomination, citing Tanden’s history of hurling insults on Twitter at GOP senators.

“My friendly advice to President Biden is to withdraw Neera Tanden's nomination and select someone who, at the very least, has not promoted wild conspiracy theories and openly bashed people on both sides of the aisle that she happens to disagree with,” Cornyn said on the Senate floor.

The nomination took a major hit Friday, when West Virginia Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin III said he would oppose Tanden, a longtime Democratic policy adviser and president of the left-leaning Center for American Progress. Manchin’s opposition means Democrats must find at least one Republican on their side to save the nomination.

After several potential GOP swing votes announced their opposition, all eyes turned to Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, a centrist who was coy Tuesday. When told that two Senate committees planned to vote on Tanden on Wednesday, Murkowski replied: “Well, I’ve got time then.”

The head of one of those committees, Budget Chairman Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., was likewise keeping reporters guessing.

“Tomorrow, we have a markup,” Sanders told reporters Tuesday. “Let’s all pay attention.”

Sanders scolded Tanden at a confirmation hearing earlier this month, saying some of her previous comments where “vicious attacks made against progressives, people I have worked with and me personally.”

The Budget Committee shares jurisdiction with the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, which also plans to vote on Tanden on Wednesday. The panels are split evenly between Democrats and Republicans, so Tanden likely can’t lose a single Democratic vote, including the support of Sanders or Arizona Sen. Kyrsten Sinema.

Like Sanders, Sinema has not said how she plans to vote in committee and didn’t respond to requests for comment.

Republicans are overwhelmingly opposed to Tanden’s nomination and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said he hopes that every GOP senator votes against her nomination, though he added that Senate Majority Whip John Thune, R-S.D., had not started “whipping” the vote yet to ensure united party opposition.

Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer, D-N.Y., accused Republicans of hypocrisy for decrying Tanden’s tweets while ignoring the verbal tirades of former President Donald Trump over the last four years. “For Republicans who looked the other way with the nastiest of tweets by their president, their leader, for now to say Neera Tanden shouldn't get in because of her tweets is a little bit of a contradiction,” Schumer said at his weekly news conference.

If the Biden administration wanted to woo Murkowski, the Alaska senator offered up her wish list Tuesday during a hearing for Rep. Deb Haaland, D-N.M., Biden's nominee for Interior secretary.

Murkowski sought administration backing for a crude oil plan from ConocoPhillips known as Willow, a road construction effort called the Ambler project and a series of leases issued in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. “Defending these specific projects would be critically important,” she told Haaland.

But it wasn’t clear that Murkowski has had any conversations with the White House about Tanden, and a Murkowski aide didn’t respond to a request for comment.

Another GOP holdout was Sen. Charles E. Grassley of Iowa, who sits on the Budget Committee and told reporters he was still deliberating over Tanden.
“I'm more interested in the part of her office that deals with approving regulations,” Grassley said.

Chris Cioffi and David Lerman contributed to this report.