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How the White House botched Neera’s appointment

Biden and his associates insist that Tanden’s prospects are not doomed. But his fate now depends on the participation of Senator Lisa Murkowski to save the nomination. Even though the The independent-minded Alaskan Republican had to do this, the saga would always mark one of the biggest missteps of Biden’s still-young presidency, which raises questions about the political sense of the White House and its ability to manage relations on the Hill. The president himself appeared to accept on Tuesday that the Tanden name could end in defeat.

“We’re going to push,” Biden said Tuesday. “We always think there is a blow, a good blow.”

Tanden’s nomination was put in jeopardy last Friday when Senator Joe Manchin (DW.Va.) announced his opposition, a development that surprised Democrats. But the seeds of his stormy reception on the Hill were sown by White House miscalculations weeks in advance – among them, moderate Senate Democrats are said to rally behind the president’s candidate slate and that resistance Republican would soften.

“Here, the opposition is always looking for someone they can fight against. And she would be the most obvious to eliminate from the herd, ”said one Senate Democrat, referring to the GOP opposition wall that Tanden has faced from the start.

For a while, the White House felt that Tanden would avoid his current fate. She atoned for her now infamous behavior on Twitter and brought forward her personal story of a difficult life, living on food stamps and being raised by a single mother. And allies like the old one Senate Democratic Majority Leader Harry Reid, who consults the White House frequently, predicted the two parties would join due to the historic nature of her appointment: Tanden would become the first South Asian woman to head the agency. Inside the White House, endorsements from the Chamber of Commerce and former Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels – a former OMB chief himself – were pushed in hopes that they would give Republicans a cover to back it up.

Elsewhere, it was thought that the Trump years, in which the Senate confirmed Mick Mulvaney and Russ Vought as OMB directors after long careers in Conservative politics, would make it difficult to oppose a candidate because of the content of his tweets.

“The truth is, she criticized the left and the right. What the hell? I really know her, I think she’s a good person, ”said Sen. Jon Tester (D-Mont.). “I don’t think the fight is over. Not until it is withdrawn or the vote is negative.

But these bets were not complemented by an aggressive lobbying effort on behalf of Tanden. A senior Democratic Senate official complained that even early in her fight for confirmation, the White House was lackluster in its advocacy for her and deaf to the colder reception it was receiving on the Hill. There were questions about how many champions she even had at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.

“Who does she have? Ron Klain. This is his constituency, ”the staff member said.

A source close to the White House, however, countered that Biden had personally supported Tanden from the start and believed that she “firmly placed Republicans and Democrats for their support.”

Still, several Democrats have said Biden does not have strong ties or loyalty to her. Tanden is a product of the Clinton world and is close to John Podesta, with whom she worked at the Center for American Progress and who advocated for her placement in the Biden administration. Democrats also claim that a scuttled Tanden nomination isn’t a terrible political outcome for Biden, as it gives the Manchins and Republicans a chance to say they broke up with Biden on something on one front while they giving cover to support his program elsewhere.

Lawmakers, meanwhile, felt reluctant to cringe in support of Tanden’s appointment. As of Monday, she had held 35 meetings with senators – although it was not known with whom. Administration officials had sought to meet with moderates like Manchin, but he had not spoken to her until their meeting on Monday – having previously announced his opposition to his appointment.

And there was open confusion among staff as to whether she had a Sherpa (she did) to help her with her appointment and Senators said they weren’t convinced by the idea. that Tanden was only qualified for the job.

“She doesn’t seem to have been very lucky,” said Senator Shelley Moore Capito (RW.Va). “There’s a part of me that says, why are you putting people up for positions – and it’s not just Biden doing this – where you know they have so much baggage it’s going to be a tough climb.” ?

Tanden has attempted to address perceived shortcomings in recent days. Twenty-four hours after the White House announced it had had those 35 meetings, press secretary Jen Psaki said Tanden spoke with 44 senators. Tanden had asked Senator Susan Collins (R-Maine) staff for a meeting, though Collins dug further the more she sifted through Tanden’s file.

On Tuesday, Collins said that the installation of Topher Spiro, former Center for American Progress staff member and Collins’ Twitter critic, at OMB “raises the question of whether she is even capable of leaving her approach behind. extremely partisan. Collins called Spiro “my troll”.

“Why would you place someone who is a troll against a US Senator in a key position within the OMB?” she asked. She suggested that Jeff Zients – Biden’s key man on the Covid crisis – would have been a much better choice than Tanden. The administration declined to comment on Spiro, who deleted several tweets attacking Collins, posted years ago.

On Wednesday, two committees will hold votes on Tanden. Senate Budget Chairman Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), Whom Tanden has targeted in the past, has yet to say he supports her. Neither Senator Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.), Who sits on the Homeland Security Committee.

Through it all, the White House has continued to hold on. “We think there is more than one way,” a source close to the nomination talks said Tuesday, but would not be more specific than saying it involved Republicans.

Mitch McConnell, meanwhile, told his caucus that he wanted Republicans to stay united in the Tanden vote, according to two sources familiar with the Senate Minority Leader ‘s remarks.

Republicans believe Murkowski, who was in attendance but did not respond to McConnell’s call, is the only GOP lawmaker to seriously consider backing Tanden. But even she seems unlikely – it hardly helps her at home to vote to condemn Trump in his impeachment trial, then turn around and save Biden’s most endangered candidate.

Other Republicans who generally think Biden should have his cabinet confirmed saw no reason to give the president so much deference. Senator Mitt Romney (R-Utah) met with Tanden and said he heard “from a number of colleagues and friends of Neera Tanden who have been very supportive.”

But he found his conduct “was inconsistent with the way I have voted in the past,” he said, “and the criticisms I have leveled at others in the past for their tweets. bad guys. And not in line with the president’s vision of a more friendly environment.

Marianne LeVine contributed to this report.


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