WASHINGTON – President Joe Biden is standing firm on his pick for White House budget chief even as her confirmation was thrown into doubt after a key moderate Democrat said he would vote against her.
Longtime Democratic hand Neera Tanden, tapped to lead the powerful Office of Management and Budget, has faced a thorny confirmation process as she’s been forced to reckon with a trail of past tweets and statements that targeted GOP senators and Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt. But Biden is pressing ahead with her nomination, despite losing a key vote, and Tanden is planning to continue her outreach to senators next week, according to an official familiar with the confirmations process.
“He thinks she’d be an incredibly successful budget director as far as helping turn our economy around during this time of crisis. And gauging from her strong backing ranging from the business community to the labor movement, he’s not at all alone,” the official said. “We’re pushing our engagement forward going into next week’s votes.”
Tanden began outreach “moments after she was named” and has since met with more than 35 senators on both sides of the aisle, the official said. The team behind the president’s Cabinet confirmations has also been in close contact with outside groups including Asian American and Pacific Islander organizations, labor unions, members of the business community, female business leaders, and faith leaders.
Though she’s mended bridges along the way, Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.V., announced Friday he would oppose her nomination after he concluded her prior statements and tweets were “overtly partisan” and would have a “toxic and detrimental impact” on the relationship between Congress and the OMB.
Although a final Senate vote on Tanden’s nomination has yet been scheduled, Manchin’s opposition could imperil her confirmation because of the Senate’s 50-50 split between Republicans and Democrats. She would need to pick up at least one vote from a Republican, and for Vice President Kamala Harris to break a potential tie, to secure the simple majority needed for confirmation.
‘Radioactive?’:Neera Tanden, Biden’s pick for budget chief, tries to win over critics on left and right
As OMB director, Tanden would serve in a central policy role at the White House, helping Biden follow through on his campaign promises like improving the Affordable Care Act – which Tanden helped shepherd through Congress under former President Barack Obama – as well as overseeing the president’s budget.
Following Manchin’s announcement, Biden hinted that he might have some GOP support to compensate for the loss of a Democratic vote.
“I think we are going to find the votes to get her confirmed,” he told reporters Friday after deplaning Air Force One following a trip to a Michigan Pfizer vaccine facility.
More:Bernie Sanders presses budget pick Neera Tanden on Twitter attacks against him and others
White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki offered her full-throated support in a statement, calling Tanden an “accomplished policy expert who would be an excellent Budget Director and we look forward to the committee votes next week and to continuing to work toward her confirmation through engagement with both parties.”
It is unclear which Republican senators might vote for Tanden, many of whom took offense to her older social media posts that often targeted them and other GOP lawmakers.
Tanden might be able to win the votes of moderate Republican like Sens. Mitt Romney of Utah, Susan Collins of Maine, or Lisa Murkowski of Alaska. Romney has not yet said publicly how he would vote, and Collins and Murkowski’s offices did not immediately respond to a request for comment on whether they supported Tanden’s confirmation.
Asked about her in December, Collins told reporters Tanden’s tweets were “intemperate” but noted she had never met her.
But Tanden has received an outpouring of public support across the political spectrum, including the right-leaning U.S. Chamber of Commerce, which sent a letter of endorsement to the two committees tasked with vetting Tanden.
Mark Holden, former senior vice president and general counsel of Koch Industries, also penned a letter urging her quick confirmation to the chairmen of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee and Senate Budget Committee.
“Ms. Tanden and I do not agree on many issues. But even when we did not agree, I found her to be a person of principle who would listen respectfully and respond thoughtfully,” he wrote in a letter obtained by USA TODAY. “In short, she was an effective and reliable ally and was always mission focused.”
The Communications Workers of America, the Breast Cancer Coalition and a number of AAPI groups have also sent letters to members of the Senate endorsing Tanden’s nomination. And more than 100 public health experts backed her nomination.
If confirmed, Tanden would return to the White House for a third time, and as the first woman of color and first South Asian to lead the OMB. The veteran Democratic operative led the left-leaning think tank Center for American Progress for a decade and served in both the Obama and Clinton administrations. As a longtime aide to Hillary Clinton, she bitterly feuded with supporters of Sanders, first during the 2016 presidential primary and later during the Vermont senator’s 2020 run.
During her confirmation hearings earlier this month, Tanden apologized and said she regretted her past comments as senators repeatedly brought up her previous barbed Twitter attacks. Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, read a series of Tanden’s tweets that ranged from calling Collins “the worst” to comparing Sen. Mitch McConnell to “Voldemort,” the villain in Harry Potter.
Sanders, who chairs the Budget committee that held one of her hearings, grilled Tanden on the corporate donations the CAP received under her leadership and pointed out the attacks she leveled against him and GOP lawmakers.
In a CNN interview on Friday, Sanders dodged a question on whether he would vote for Tanden, saying he would talk to her “early next week.”
Contributing: Nicholas Wu