How the White House Ruined Neera’s Nomination

Biden and his aides insist that Tanden’s prospects are not doomed. But his fate now depends on Senator Lisa Murkowski stepping in to save the nomination. Even if the If independent-minded Alaskan Republicans did that, the saga would still mark one of the biggest mistakes of Biden’s still-young presidency, one that raises questions about the White House’s political acumen and ability to manage relations in Hill. The president himself appeared to accept on Tuesday that Tanden’s nomination could end in defeat.

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

Tanden’s nomination was put in jeopardy last Friday when Sen. Joe Manchin (DW.Va.) announced his opposition, a move that took Democrats by surprise. But the seeds of his shaky reception at Hill were sown with White House miscalculations weeks earlier, including that the Senate’s moderate Democrats would rally behind the president’s nominee list and that Republican resistance would soften.

“Around here the opposition is always looking for the person they can fight for. And she would be the obvious one to remove from the pack, ”said a Senate Democrat, referring to the wall of Republican opposition that Tanden faced early on.

For a time, the White House felt that Tanden would avoid his current fate. She atoned for her now infamous behavior on Twitter and presented her personal story of a difficult life, living on food stamps and being raised by a single mother. And allies like the previous ones Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, who consults frequently with the White House, predicted both parties would join. Due to the historic nature of her nomination: 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 WBO chief, were rebuffed in the hope that they would give Republicans a cover to back it up.

Elsewhere, there was a belief that the Trump years, in which the Senate confirmed Mick Mulvaney and Russ Vought as directors of the WBO after long careers in conservative politics, would make opposition to a nominee more difficult because of the tenor of your tweets.

“The truth is that it has been critical of the left and the right. What the hell? I actually know her, I think she’s a good person, ”Senator Jon Tester (D-Mont.) Said. “I don’t think the fight is over. Not until they withdraw it or the vote is negative. “

But those bets were not complemented by an aggressive lobbying effort on Tanden’s behalf. A senior Democratic Senate staff member complained that even early in her confirmation fight, the White House was mediocre in its defense of her and did not hear the colder reception she was getting from Hill. There were questions about how many champions he had at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.

“Who does she have? Ron Klain. That’s your constituency, ”said the staff member.

However, a source close to the White House responded that Biden had personally endorsed Tanden from the beginning and thought he was “making a strong case to Republicans and Democrats for their support.”

Still, several Democrats 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 had advocated for her placement in the Biden administration. Democrats also argue that a sunk Tanden nomination is not a terrible political outcome for Biden, as it gives Manchin and the Republicans a chance to say they broke with Biden on something on one front while giving them coverage to support his agenda in other part.

Lawmakers, meanwhile, felt little in the way of twisting their arms in backing Tanden’s nomination. As of Monday, he had held 35 meetings with senators, although it was not clear with whom. Administration officials had sought early meetings with moderates like Manchin, but he did not speak to her before Monday’s meeting, after he had already announced his opposition to her nomination.

And there was open confusion among staff about whether he had a Sherpa (he had one) to help with his nomination, and senators said they had not been persuaded by the idea that Tanden was uniquely qualified for the position.

“It doesn’t seem like I have much of a chance,” said Senator Shelley Moore Capito (RW.Va). “There’s a part of me that says, why are you putting people for jobs, and this isn’t just Biden doing this, where you know they have so much baggage that it’s going to be a difficult promotion?”

Tanden has tried to remedy perceived shortcomings in recent days. Twenty-four hours after the White House said it had those 35 meetings, press secretary Jen Psaki said that Tanden had spoken with 44 senators. Tanden had asked the staff of Sen. Susan Collins (Republican of Maine) for a meeting, although Collins delved further. the more he examined Tanden’s record.

On Tuesday, Collins said the installation of Topher Spiro, a former Center for American Progress employee and a critic of Collins on Twitter, at the OMB “raises questions about whether she is capable of putting her extremely partisan approach behind her.” Collins called Spiro a “troll of mine”.

“Why would you put someone who is a troll against a United States senator in a key position in the WBO?” she asked. She suggested that Jeff Zients, Biden’s point man in the Covid crisis, would have been a much better option 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 had targeted in the past, has yet to say he supports her. Neither does Senator Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.), Who serves on the National Security Committee.

Regardless, the White House has continued to stand firm. “We believe there is more than one path,” a source close to the nomination talks said Tuesday, but was no more specific than saying it involved Republicans.

Meanwhile, Mitch McConnell has told his group that he wants Republicans to stick together in the Tanden vote, according to two sources with knowledge of the Senate minority leader’s comments.

Republicans believe Murkowski, who was present but did not respond to McConnell’s statement, is the only Republican lawmaker seriously considering supporting Tanden. But even she seems unlikely: In her country, it hardly helps her to vote to convict Trump at his impeachment and then turn around and save Biden’s most threatened nominee.

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

But he found that his conduct “is not consistent with the way I voted in the past,” he said, “and the criticism I have leveled at others in the past for their bad tweets. And it is not consistent with the president’s vision of a friendlier environment. “

Marianne LeVine contributed to this report.

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