Senator Joe Manchin (D-WV) said that he will not vote for the confirmation of Neera Tanden, Biden’s nominee to head the Office of Management and Budget. Tanden has been under fire for her past harsh comments criticizing both Republican and Democratic leaders while she led the leftists think thank Center for American Progress.
Tanden’s twitter record has been the center of attention of her confirmation hearings. She was chastised by the Senate for referring to Senator Mitch McConnell (R-KY) as “Moscow Mitch”. Tanden also stated that “vampires have more hearth than Ted Cruz” (demonstrably false, since vampires can’t go to Cancun), and attacked Bernie Sanders (D-VT), while he ran for the Democratic nomination for president. Tanden’s Twitter account has achieved a major milestone: it united the GOP and the progressive wing of the Democratic Party.
Manchin, who wields significant power in the Senate, said earlier this Friday that he “believes her overtly partisan statements” will damage the “working relationship between members of Congress and the next director of the Office of Management and Budget.” With Manchin’s disapproval, Tanden faces a very difficult path to confirmation, as the Democrats will now need at least one Republican senator to support her controversial nomination while simultaneously not lose any other Democratic senator — we are looking at you, Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ).
President Biden has said that he will not withdraw Tanden’s nomination and that he believes they still have enough votes to get his nominee through the Senate. Senator Sanders said that he has not made his mind yet on his Tanden vote and that he is “more concerned about what she’s going to do in the future” rather than what she did in the past.
Another option for the White House to confirm their floundering OMB nominee is to try a recess appointment. Obama previously tried to do this, but as the GOP controlled the House they held pro-forma sessions preventing Congress to ever be in formal recess, however, this time around the Democrats control both chambers of Congress, which may give them the opportunity to pull it off.
Manchin flexes his political muscles
If the vote to confirm fails, then this would be the first legislative defeat for the month-old Biden administration, showing that the Democrats’ control of all the levers in Washington is fragile at best. This is a significant power move by Manchin, who has already buried the Democratic proposal to eliminate the filibuster and has said that is against raising the federal minimum wage to $15. Manchin is signaling to the White House that he, not the progressive wing of the party, is the most significant member of the Senate and that nothing passes without his explicit approval.
Manchin does not do this to exasperate Biden. He is one of the few surviving Democrats who serve in a deeply red state (Trump won West Virginia by almost 30 points) and needs to show to his electorate that he’s an independent voice, a moderate democrat who will stand up against the Biden administration when needed. This approach will surely gain Manchin many enemies in the left of the party, but those who criticize him for not toeing the party line should remember that without Democrats like Manchin, the GOP would have retained the Senate in 2020.
As we have said before, the Democratic Party has a very razor-thin majority in Congress, which has put Biden in an extremely difficult position. If he wants anything to get done during his first two years as President, before the GOP tries to erase his majority in both houses in the midterms, he will need to balance the interests of the AOC-Bernie wing (who both live in safe states) of the party and Senators with Democrats like Manchin or Sinema who represent very competitive states.
Tanden’s nomination is only an illustration of the impediments that Biden will face during his presidency — at least his first two years — and which is why he must be very careful on any proposal he wants to pass through Congress. Biden still has a lot of time to develop an approach that will appease both sides of his party or even (to the dismay of radical Democrats) ensure some bipartisan support. As of right now, however, Biden’s strategy appears not to be working.
As of today, it appears that there are two Joes in charge of DC: Joe Biden in the White House and Joe Manchin in the Senate.