The growing intrigue over a trio of controversial presidential elections is also underscoring the power of individual senators such as Democrat Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Republican Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, when the party balance is so divided.
While Biden has seen top-tier national security selections installed, such as Antony Blinken as secretary of state and Lloyd Austin at the Pentagon, the focus on nominees whose portfolios touch on some of the most sensitive national political issues is leading the confirmation process. to a controversy. crescendo.
Another painful hearing is looming Tuesday for Interior Secretary candidate Deb Haaland, whose opposition to fossil fuels causes members of the Republican Party to call her extreme, in a showdown that could also prove uncomfortable for moderate Democrats.
It is not unusual for new presidents to have trouble with some nominees, or even see several potential cabinet members fall. Blocking an election is an easy way for senators to show their power and signal to a new White House that they cannot be taken for granted. And the political clashes that cloud the confirmation hopes of candidates like Haaland and Tanden are quite predictable, reflecting the gulfs between the parties.
But when a president has a reasonable ruling majority in the Senate, confirmations become easier. If Democrats had a handful of seats to spare, for example, a senator like Manchin, who must constantly judge the winds in his ultra-conservative state of West Virginia, could get a pass.
But when nominations hinge on a party line vote and a runoff cast by Vice President Kamala Harris, Democratic leaders cannot offer any political coverage, at least without some defections from the Republican ranks.
For now, the issue concerns individual cabinet nominees, whose defeat would hurt Biden and damage the bodywork of his ruling machine. But in the coming months, when it comes to radical and electorally radioactive issues like climate change and immigration, his entire presidency will be at stake.
While the situation is tense now, it is not unreasonable that illness, disability, or even the death of elderly senators could erase their ruling majority forever.
A nomination on the brink
Tanden’s struggles are characteristic of nominees who have problems stemming from their own political vulnerabilities, but who are also victims of broader political forces beyond their individual destinies.
Still, Tanden, the chair of the liberal think tank Center for American Progress, is in a somewhat unique position to see her support for both the right and the left, a scenario that led some observers to register surprise when she was nominated.
Republican senators profess they are offended by some of her now-deleted tweets that criticized the Republican Party and individual senators who now need to vote for her. Of course, it’s kind of rich for Republicans to complain about anyone’s tweets after spending four years empowering 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, is the victim of damaging double standards.
Still, hypocrisy is the fat that often turns the wheels in the Senate. And Tanden also has lukewarm support on his own side. She was forced to try to reconcile with Senator Bernie Sanders, an independent from Vermont who is part of the Democrats, who now chairs the Budget Committee and would be her main contact. Sanders supporters accused Tanden of being among the Democratic elites who believe they stacked the party’s nomination race against him and in favor of former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in 2016. During his confirmation hearing, Tanden had to apologize for what which Sanders complained was “cruel” attacks on progressives.
Given her always questionable prospects, there wasn’t much incentive for a senator like Manchin to support her. The West Virginian has endorsed the president’s nominees who have so far obtained full votes. And he voted to convict former President Donald Trump at his impeachment in the Senate, in what was an ugly choice as his home state overwhelmingly supports the former president.
So to safeguard his brand as a relatively independent voice, and to avoid being branded a rubber stamp for Biden, Manchin probably needed to do something. He explained that he couldn’t support Tanden because he represented the kind of divisive politics that Biden wants to eliminate from Washington.
“I don’t know her, probably a very, very good person, basically a little toxic right now,” Manchin told reporters on Capitol Hill Monday.
The West Virginia senator is also emerging at a crucial point in the battle to pass Biden’s $ 1.9 trillion Covid aid bill, which all Republicans are likely to oppose. He said Monday that he would seek to amend legislation to set a federal hourly minimum wage at $ 11 for two years, rather than the current Democratic proposal for an increase to $ 15 for five years.
Once Manchin freed Tanden, and after a string of Republicans, including Senators Mitt Romney of Utah, Susan Collins of Maine, and Rob Portman of Ohio, followed suit, his prospects for confirmation turned dire, despite that the White House insisted he was standing next to the peak on Monday.
“They will have to get her out,” a senior Democratic senator told CNN’s Manu Raju. Tanden’s low hopes Monday night likely rested on Murkowski, who has yet to say how he will vote.
The Alaska Republican is an independent voice and voted to convict Trump at his second impeachment trial. But it’s hard to see how he would have an incentive to bail out a Democratic cabinet nominee who is already deeply embattled, especially with his own reelection race next year.
Battle of powers over climate change
Haaland’s nomination differs from the Tanden case as the New Mexico House member is very popular with most Democrats. Her nomination is historic as she would be the first member of the Native American cabinet. He would also lead the Department of the Interior, an agency with a long history of discrimination against his community.
Democrats and White House officials told CNN on Monday that they anticipate a tense few hours when Haaland appears before the Committee on Energy and Natural Resources on Tuesday.
And guess who might be the Senate’s key voice on the Senate panel and plenary on Haaland’s prospects? Manchin again, who chairs the committee and has not yet pledged to support his nomination.
“We are very open to hearing her, and we hope she has a good hearing,” Manchin, a supporter of the fossil fuel industries in his home state, said Monday.
Haaland risks becoming the focal point of Republican attacks on Biden’s new US commitment to fighting global warming, which led him to swiftly join the Paris climate accord after taking office.
In the past, Haaland has opposed the issuance of new oil and gas drilling leases on federal land and has expressed support for a ban on fracking, a method of extracting natural gas. He has also supported the Green New Deal, the ambitious climate plan promoted by Democratic Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York, though not the Biden administration.
The Green New Deal has been the target of Republican attacks claiming its restrictions on fossil fuels would destroy the American economy. Tuesday’s hearing is likely to become a preview of the bitter partisan battles that are likely to unfold when Biden sends a climate bill to Capitol Hill.
An audience – at last
Not all of Biden’s nominees got into trouble Monday.
Ironically, the reputation for restraint and steadfast temperament that Obama thought could ease Garland’s path through a Republican-led Senate to superior court helped him at his confirmation hearing Monday.
Republican Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, a supporter of Arch-Trump, said Monday that he would “very likely” support the nomination.