Senate Moderates are preparing to sacrifice Neera Tanden to the gods of bipartisan comity — but Joe Biden isn’t relinquishing his nominee for Office of Management and Budget (OMB) director just yet.
During the Trump era, Joe Manchin repeatedly bucked his party on high-profile votes, but in almost all of these cases, his vote was not decisive. For example, the West Virginia Democrat backed Brett Kavanaugh’s confirmation to the Supreme Court — but only after enough Republican moderates had declared their support for Trump’s nominee to ensure his ascension. Meanwhile, Manchin toed the party line on the Trump Tax Cuts and Obamacare repeal. Early in the Biden era, red America’s favorite Democrat already reconciled himself to supporting (at least, in principle) the passage of a nearly $2 trillion economic relief package through the budget reconciliation process.
Given this pattern of behavior — and the longstanding Senate bias in favor of granting presidents’ their desired cabinets — Manchin’s announcement that he would oppose Tanden’s nomination Friday took some by surprise. But apparently, the Mountain State moderate is more comfortable facilitating massive Keynesian stimulus than entrusting a social-media addict with federal power. In official Washington, Tanden may be best known as the president of liberal think-tank the Center for American Progress (CAP). But in the trenches of politics Twitter’s posting wars, Tanden has long comported herself as the kind of warrior whose maniacal brutality fills her enemies’ hearts with a mix of seething hatred and grudging admiration. Even as she occupied some of the most powerful positions in Democratic politics, Tanden made time to tussle with anonymous Stalinist accounts at two in the morning, dunk on Republican senators in the afternoon, and criticize Bernie Sanders in the evening. Alas, the Senate is no chamber for middle-aged shitposters.
“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. For this reason, I cannot support her nomination,” Manchin said Friday.
The Biden White House declined to withdraw her nomination in response to Manchin’s announcement, apparently betting that it could find one Republican vote for Tanden in the 50-50 Senate. But on Monday, Susan Collins and Mitt Romney came out in opposition to the CAP president.
In a statement, the Maine senator said that Tanden’s “past actions have demonstrated exactly the kind of animosity that President Biden has pledged to transcend,” and rendered her unfit to perform the OMB director’s duties in a fair and impartial manner. “In addition, Ms. Tanden’s decision to delete more than a thousand tweets in the days before her nomination was announced raises concerns about her commitment to transparency,” Collins continued.
In hindsight, the Biden team probably should’ve seen this one coming.
A source close to Romney told Politico that the Utah senator “believes it’s hard to return to comity and respect with a nominee who has issued a thousand mean tweets.”
Nevertheless, Biden press secretary Jen Psaki reiterated the administration’s support for the nominee Monday morning.
Tanden has inspired a good deal of ire on her party’s left flank, having alienated a generation of young progressive staffers through controversial management decisions at CAP and incendiary tweets about a certain Vermont Senator and his supporters. But she is also broadly liberal in her official domestic-policy commitments. Given Biden’s longtime ties to various Democratic deficit hawks, it was easy to imagine the president appointing an OMB director who would be more adversarial to the goals of congressional progressives. Fortunately, however, Biden has already filled the lower level staff positions at OMB with wonks of impeccably progressive, anti-austerity credentials. And the leading contenders to replace Tanden appear to occupy the same ideological space. The frontrunner, according to multiple outlets, is two-time two-time director of the National Economic Council Gene Sperling. During Bill Clinton’s presidency, Sperling was no darling of the left. But in recent years, like so much of the Democrats’ technocratic class, Sperling has drifted leftward on questions of fiscal policy, with his 2020 book Economic Dignity winning the plaudits from the American Prospect’s Robert Kuttner.
Also in the mix is Ann O’Leary, a longtime veteran of Clinton world who recently left her gig as California governor Gavin Newsom’s chief of staff. O’Leary’s ideological inclinations aren’t as well defined as Sperling. But nothing in her resume suggests she would less accommodating of progressive fiscal goals than Tanden would be. O’Leary’s association with the embattled California governor is weighing against her nomination, according to Politico, but the Biden administration’s desire for gender balance in its cabinet may overwhelm that concern.