The growing intrigue over a trio of controversial presidential picks also highlights the power of individual senators such as Democrat Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Republican Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, when the partisan balance is so evenly divided.
While Biden has seen top national security selections such as Antony Blinken as Secretary of State and Lloyd Austin in the Pentagon installed, the focus on nominees whose portfolios touch on some of the political issues most sensitive national laws bring the confirmation process to litigation. crescendo.
Another deadly hearing looms Tuesday for Home Secretary candidate Deb Haaland, whose opposition to fossil fuels has GOP members calling her extreme, in a showdown that could also prove uncomfortable for them. moderate democrats.
It’s not at all unusual for new presidents to have issues with certain candidates – or even to see several potential Cabinet members fall. Blocking a choice is an easy way for Senators to vary their power and signal to a new White House that they cannot be taken for granted. And political clashes clouding the confirmation hopes of candidates like Haaland and Tanden are entirely predictable, as they reflect the chasms between the parties.
But when a president has a reasonable majority in the Senate, confirmations become easier. If Democrats had a handful of seats to spare, for example, a senator like Manchin, who constantly has to judge the winds in his ultra-conservative state of West Virginia, might have a pass.
But when the nominations hinge on a party line vote and a tiebreaker from Vice President Kamala Harris, Democratic leaders can offer no political cover – at least without some defections from the ranks of the GOP.
For now, the issue is with cabinet nominees – whose defeat would sting Biden and damage the bodywork of his ruling machine. But in the months to come, when it comes to important and electrically radioactive issues such as climate change and immigration, his entire presidency will be on the line.
Although the situation is tense at the moment, it is not out of the question that illness, disability or even the death of elderly senators could permanently erase their majority in power.
An appointment on the brink
Tanden’s struggles are characteristic of candidates who have problems arising from their own political vulnerabilities, but who are also victims of broader political forces beyond their individual fates.
Still, Tanden, chair of the liberal think tank Center for American Progress, is in the somewhat unique position of having her support fray right and left – a scenario that has led some observers to register surprise when she nomination.
Republican senators profess they are offended by some of her now deleted tweets that have lambasted the GOP and the individual senators that she now needs to vote for her. Of course, it’s a bit rich for Republicans to complain about anyone’s tweets after spending four years helping a president whose social media vitriol left Tanden in the dust. And then there’s the question of whether Tanden, a prominent female political figure born to Indian immigrant parents, has fallen victim to damaging double standards.
Yet hypocrisy is the fat that often turns the wheels in the Senate. And Tanden also has lukewarm support on their side. She was forced to try and come to terms with Senator Bernie Sanders, an independent from Vermont who caucuses with the Democrats, who now chairs the budget committee and would be her main contact. Sanders’ supporters accused Tanden of being among the Democratic elites they say piled the party’s candidacy race against him and in favor of former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in 2016. At his confirmation hearing , Tanden had to apologize for what Sanders complained of to be “vicious” “attacks on progressives.
Given her still questionable outlook, there wasn’t much incentive for a senator like Manchin to support her. The West Virginian has backed the presidential candidates who have come for full votes so far. And he voted to convict former President Donald Trump in his Senate impeachment trial – in what was an unpleasant choice since his home state overwhelmingly backs the ex-president.
So, to safeguard his mark as a relatively independent voice and to avoid being tarnished like a rubber stamp for Biden, Manchin probably needed to take a stand somewhere. He explained that he couldn’t support Tanden because she represented the kind of divisive politics Biden wants to purge from Washington.
“I don’t know her, probably a very, very good person, just a little toxic right now,” Manchin told reporters Monday on Capitol Hill.
The West Virginia senator is also emerging at a pivotal time in the battle to pass Biden’s $ 1.9 trillion Covid relief bill, which all Republicans are likely to oppose. He said Monday he would seek to change the legislation to set a federal hourly minimum wage at $ 11 over two years, instead of the current Democratic proposal to increase to $ 15 over five years.
Once Manchin cuts Tanden, and after a series of Republicans – including Senator Mitt Romney of Utah, Susan Collins of Maine and Rob Portman of Ohio – followed suit, his prospects for confirmation are turned disastrous, despite the White House’s insistence he stood near the pickaxe on Monday.
“They are going to have to withdraw it,” a senior Democratic senator told CNN’s Manu Raju. Tanden’s low hopes on Monday night likely rested on Murkowski, who has yet to say how she will vote.
The Alaskan Republican is an independent voice – and she voted to convict Trump in his second impeachment trial. But it’s hard to see how she would have any incentive to save an already deeply besieged Democratic cabinet candidate, especially with her own reelection race looming next year.
Proxy battle over climate change
The Haaland nomination differs from the Tanden affair in that the New Mexico congressman is very popular among most Democrats. Her appointment is historic since she would be the first member of the Amerindian cabinet. She would also head the Home Office, an agency with a long history of discriminating against her community.
Democrats and White House officials told CNN on Monday that they were expecting tight hours when Haaland appears before the energy and natural resources committee on Tuesday.
And guess who might be the main Senate voice on the panel and in the Senate on Haaland’s outlook? Manchin again, who chairs the committee and has yet to commit to supporting his nomination.
“We are very open to hearing her, and I hope she has a good hearing,” Manchin, a longtime supporter of the fossil fuel industries in his home state, said on Monday.
Haaland risks becoming the focal point of Republican attacks on Biden’s re-engagement of the United States to fight global warming – which saw him quickly join the Paris climate agreement after taking office.
In the past, Haaland has opposed issuing new leases for oil and gas drilling on federal lands and has expressed support for banning hydraulic fracturing, a method of extracting natural gas. She also supported the Green New Deal, the ambitious climate plan pushed by Democratic Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York – but not by the Biden administration.
The Green New Deal has been the target of Republican attacks claiming that its restrictions on fossil fuels will destroy the US economy. It’s likely Tuesday’s hearing will turn into a preview of the bitter partisan battles that are likely to unfold when Biden sends a climate bill to Capitol Hill.
A hearing – finally
Not all of the Biden nominees got into trouble on Monday.
Ironically, the reputation for moderation and steadfast temperament that Obama said could ease Garland’s path through a Republican-led Senate to the High Court helped him on Monday at his confirmation hearing.
Republican Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, an Arch-Trump supporter, said on Monday he would “very likely” support the nomination.