“I think this is where our Republican colleagues highlight their ideological issues and diverge more here than on other foreign policy issues,” said Senator Bob Menendez, a Democrat from New Jersey. “This is where they want to push their messages and their arguments. They use their national policy nominees as the vehicle to do that.”
“It’s not some kind of concerted effort,” said Senator John Kennedy, a Republican from Louisiana. “We have not had discussions that I am aware of about any kind of strategy. I think most people were considering the nominees on their merits and letting the chips fall where possible.”
Democrats argue that it is not uncommon for early nominees in an administration to move more quickly and smoothly, but since Democrats have no margin for error, fights for nominees are shaping up to be closer calls than some previous administrations.
“Generally speaking, during the brief decade I’ve been here, the national security nominees, whether it’s the Secretary of Defense or the Attorney General, get a higher degree of deference because there is a more bipartisan sense of urgency to allow a president to elect their own candidate instead of those in national politics, “said Senator Chris Coons, a Delaware Democrat.
The Biden administration has yet to lose a single nominee. The White House has made clear that it backs Tanden’s nomination and Sen. Lisa Murkowski, a Republican from Alaska, has left the door open to back Tanden, telling reporters Tuesday that she would not make a decision until after the Budget and National Security committees. Wednesday to advance the nomination.
But Tanden’s fight to win support in the Senate, while unique given his history of tweets attacking Republicans, is also a reflection of how narrow the majority of Democrats are. Democrats cannot afford defections in their own party and, if they do occur, they need Republicans to make up the difference, something that is harder to find with some of Biden’s latest nominees.
At the beginning of Becerra’s confirmation hearing Tuesday, North Carolina’s top Republican Senator Richard Burr said bluntly: “I’m not sold yet.”
“I’m not sure I have the experience or skills to do the job at this point,” Burr said.
Sen. Mitt Romney, a Republican from Utah, where public lands issues have become a political lightning rod in recent years, said he wasn’t sure if Haaland was the right person for the job.
“I have voted for almost all of the president’s nominees thus far, but Congresswoman Haaland and Neera Tanden present some real questions and challenges,” Romney said.
Manchin, the chairman of the Energy Committee, has also not said whether he will back Haaland, who supported the Green New Deal when he was in Congress, a policy Manchin himself does not support.
“We have to finish the hearing,” Manchin said. “I think it was good.”
Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, a moderate Democrat from Arizona, has also not said whether she would back Haaland or Tanden.
The next few weeks could be a test of whether the Democratic leadership can hold the caucus together as Republican attacks on nominees increase and fewer Republican votes are available to bolster Democratic defections.
“It’s a narrow majority, 50/50 is pretty tight,” Sen. Thom Tillis, a Republican from North Carolina, said of the tricky math.
CNN’s Ted Barrett contributed to this report.