President Joe Biden has been in office for more than a month, but he has a half-baked Cabinet, with the Senate having confirmed only 9 of its 23 members and holding at least one in check.
Biden himself lamented on Wednesday having so few of his nominees sitting around the Cabinet table.
At this point, most previous presidents had a full or nearly full Cabinet, but Republican gridlock at the start of the term, the impeachment of Donald Trump and the weak Democratic majority have delayed its composition.
With the Democrats holding 50 seats in the Senate, the same as the Republicans, Biden cannot afford a single defection from their ranks on strategic votes, a delicate balance that is sure to haunt him during his tenure.
In fact, it was West Virginia Democratic Senator Joe Manchin, the most moderate in his party and considered by many to be the man with the most power in the Senate, who derailed, at least apparently, the first confirmation.
Neera Tanden looking unlikely
Neera Tanden, a former Hillary Clinton adviser whom Biden has appointed as director of the Office of Management and Budget, a cabinet-level position, looks like she will not make the cut.
Tanden carries on her record dozens of inflammatory tweets against many of the Republican senators, who have taken her nomination personally, but also against some Democrats, such as progressive Bernie Sanders.
Sanders, in fact, chairs one of the two committees that have to give the first green light to Tanden before the full Senate can do so, and on Wednesday suspended the scheduled vote on the grounds that he “did not have the votes” to pass it, a bad omen for the former Clinton adviser.
Sanders himself has not made public whether he will support her or not.
Although most in the halls of Congress consider Tanden’s confirmation dead, the White House has been steadfast in its defense, has said it has no “plan B” and considers that there is still a possible path to his confirmation.
Sanders aside, the ball is now in the court of Democratic Senator Kyrsten Sinema and Republican Lisa Murkowski, two of the more moderate voices in the chamber still weighing what to do about Tanden.
As the White House negotiates with both, Senate Republicans’ No. 3 John Cornyn gave Biden “friendly advice” on Tuesday by urging him to remove Tanden before she is defeated in a vote.
And many Democrats are also advocating behind closed doors to replace her with Shalanda Young, who was to be his number two.
Other nominees in question
Also on the hot seat are Health Secretary nominee Xavier Becerra and Interior Secretary nominee Deb Haaland, although the latter received a strong endorsement Wednesday from Manchin, who had said days earlier that he was “undecided.”
Haaland would be the first person with Native roots to hold a cabinet post and would, if confirmed, be at the helm of Interior.
Republicans appear fairly united against Haaland, whom they consider “radical” because of her progressive environmental ideals and opposition to oil and gas drilling on federal lands.
Biden promised during the campaign that he would work to govern with the support of more moderate Republicans, but keeping his 50 senators in line is becoming a more pressing challenge for the new President.