WASHINGTON – President Joe Biden's pick to head the Office of Management and Budget, Neera Tanden, has withdrawn her nomination after she faced opposition from key Democratic and Republican senators for her controversial tweets.
Her withdrawal marks the first high-profile defeat of one of Biden's nominees. Thirteen of the 23 Cabinet nominees requiring Senate approval have been confirmed, most with strong bipartisan support.
“Unfortunately, it now seems clear that there is no path forward to gain confirmation, and I do not want continued consideration of my nomination to be a distraction from your other priorities,” Tanden wrote in a letter to Biden. The president, in a statement, said he has “utmost respect for her record of accomplishment, her experience and her counsel” and pledged to find her another role in his administration.
Tanden’s viability was in doubt after Democratic West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin and a number of moderate Republicans came out against her last month, all citing her tweets attacking members of both parties prior to her nomination.
Manchin, a key moderate swing vote in the Senate, said last month in a statement announcing his opposition that “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.” Maine Republican Sen. Susan Collins, meanwhile, cited Biden’s own standard of conduct in opposing Tanden, declaring in a statement that “her past actions have demonstrated exactly the kind of animosity that President Biden has pledged to transcend.”
Tanden needed just 51 votes in an evenly-divided Senate, with Vice President Kamala Harris acting as a tiebreaker. But without Manchin’s support, the White House was left scrambling to find a Republican to support her.
Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski, who was seen as the last Republican holdout open to supporting Tanden, said Tuesday night that she never told the White House she was a no vote on Tanden, and that the administration never asked. But her support was believed to be key to Tanden's nomination after a number of other centrist Republicans came out against her, and Murkowski met with the nominee this week.
Murkowski told reporters she had asked Tanden, as she does all the nominees, to understand the challenges the Biden administration’s policies are having on Alaska, where the economy is heavily dependent on oil and gas drilling and related activities.
“I have walked each and every one of them through these priorities, these challenges that we’re facing right now as, as, Alaskans, and I’m saying, what can you do to help me?” Murkowski said. “Because we’ve got an industry that is that is really in a fragile position right now because of the administration executive orders.”
The White House stuck with Tanden even after a number of centrist Republicans made their opposition known, insisting her experience growing up on welfare and background working on progressive policies as the president and CEO of the liberal-leaning Center for American Progress made her the right candidate for the moment. White House chief of staff Ron Klain initially insisted the administration was “fighting our guts out” for her.
Tanden faced pointed questions over her past comments about members from both parties during her confirmation hearing. Sen. Bernie Sanders, a Vermont independent and prominent progressive lawmaker, accused her of issuing “vicious attacks” against progressives, and hadn’t said whether he’d support her nomination.
Tanden apologized during that hearing to “people on either the left or right who are hurt by what I’ve said.” Just prior to the hearing, she deleted hundreds of tweets, many of which were critical of Republicans.
Collins cited those deleted tweets in her statement, saying that the move “raises concerns about her commitment to transparency.” She said Congress “has to be able to trust the OMB director to make countless decisions in an impartial manner, carrying out the letter of the law and congressional intent.”
As recently as Monday, the White House indicated it was sticking by Tanden’s nomination, with press secretary Jen Psaki noting Tanden's “decades of experience” in defending their pick.
“We will continue of course to fight for the confirmation of every nominee that the president puts forward,” Psaki insisted, but she added, “We'll see if we have 50 votes.”
A leading advocate for Tanden, Rep. Judy Chu, D-Calif., the chair of the Congressional Asian and Pacific American Caucus, called the withdrawal a “tragedy” that leaves the Cabinet with just one Asian American member.
“We expect the highest levels of professionalism and civility from our leaders in government, which is precisely what Neera displayed in taking responsibility for her past comments and committing to a change in tone. I’m disappointed that such a qualified candidate was subject to such a negative double standard," Chu said.
The head of the Office of Management and Budget is tasked with putting together the administration's budget, as well as overseeing a wide range of logistical and regulatory issues across the federal government.
Tanden's withdrawal leaves the Biden administration without a clear replacement. The apparent front-runner on Capitol Hill to replace Tanden was Shalanda Young, a former staff director for the House Appropriations Committee who has been actively pushed by members of the Congressional Black Caucus.
Other names mentioned include Ann O’Leary, a former chief of staff for California Gov. Gavin Newsom, and Gene Sperling, who served as a top economic adviser to both Presidents Bill Clinton and Barack Obama.
Associated Press writer Lisa Mascaro contributed reporting.