The White House withdrew its nomination of Neera Tanden, President Joe Biden’s pick to direct the White House’s Office of Management and Budget, on Tuesday after it became clear that she would lose a Senate confirmation vote.
Biden confirmed that he had accepted Tanden’s request to withdraw her name, adding that he still planned to have her serve in another role within his administration.
“I have the utmost respect for her record of accomplishment, her experience and her counsel, and I look forward to having her serve in a role in my administration,” the president said. “She will bring valuable perspective and insight to our work.”
Tanden said in a letter to the president that it was the “honor of a lifetime to be considered” for the role, despite the outcome.
“I appreciate how hard you and your team at the White House has worked to win my confirmation,” she wrote to Biden. “Unfortunately, it now seems clear that there is no path forward to gain confirmation, and I do not want continued consideration of my nomination to be a distraction from your other priorities.”
Tanden, the former president of the Center for American Progress, an influential Democratic think tank, came under bipartisan fire for her history of partisan and combative rhetoric, particularly on Twitter.
She is the first of Biden’s Cabinet-level nominees to collapse under pressure, marking a significant loss for a new administration eager to project competence and unity.
Tanden’s chances of confirmation began to dim on Feb. 19, when conservative Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia announced his opposition to her. He said her “overtly partisan statements will have a toxic and detrimental impact on the important working relationship between members of Congress and the next director of the Office of Management and Budget.”
Given the 50-50 partisan split in the Senate, Tanden would need to pick up at least one Republican “yes” vote to offset Manchin’s “no” vote.
But Sens. Susan Collins (Maine) and Mitt Romney (Utah), two moderate Republicans who have sometimes bucked GOP leaders, announced their opposition to Tanden’s confirmation on Feb. 22. Both senators pointed to Tanden’s tweets, which include her calling Collins “the worst” in 2018.
“Neera Tanden has neither the experience nor the temperament to lead this critical agency,” Collins said in a statement.
The White House continued to publicly stand by Tanden, even as the prospects for her confirmation grew slimmer. White House press secretary Jen Psaki also noted in a tweet that Tanden, who is Indian American, would be the first person of Asian descent to head the OMB.
Tanden met with Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), another moderate Republican, on Monday, in a last-ditch effort to secure the votes she needed. Murkowski signaled on Tuesday that she was open to trading concessions for her state, particularly related to energy extraction, in exchange for supporting Tanden, but hours later the White House announced the withdrawal.
It was clear for weeks, however, that the White House was already preparing contingency plans.
Gene Sperling, a top economic adviser for former presidents Bill Clinton and Barack Obama, emerged as a top prospect to replace Tanden, The American Prospect reported on Feb. 19.
The OMB is responsible for assembling the president’s annual budget proposals and implementing the president’s agenda across executive-branch agencies.
Tanden, an attorney who served in the Clinton and Obama administrations, is known for her influence in Democratic politics and experience crafting health care policy under Obama. But instead of focusing on Tanden’s qualifications for the position, the fight over her nomination has largely become an opportunity for centrist lawmakers to demonstrate their independence from the White House.
Collins, who voted to confirm many of then-President Donald Trump’s most controversial Cabinet and judicial nominees, claimed she was simply holding Biden to his promises to govern less divisively than his predecessor.
Tanden’s “past actions have demonstrated exactly the kind of animosity that President Biden has pledged to transcend,” Collins said, arguing that Tanden deleting more than 1,000 tweets ahead of her nomination to the White House post “raise[d] concerns about her commitment to transparency.”
Tanden apologized for her rude tweets in confirmation hearings before the Senate Budget Committee and the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, and promised to take a conciliatory approach as head of the OMB.
“I apologize to people on either the left or right who are hurt by what I’ve said,” Tanden told Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), the Senate Budget Committee chairman and an occasional target of Tanden’s Twitter wrath.
Progressive organizations largely either supported Tanden’s confirmation or stayed neutral. They typically preferred her over Bruce Reed, a more conservative Democratic wonk who was reportedly under consideration for the role.
Nearly 30 influential progressive labor and women’s groups urged senators on Feb. 22 to support Tanden’s nomination, citing her work on the critical women’s issues at the core of the current economic crisis.
“In a moment when our nation is in the midst of once-in-a-century public health crisis that has cost the lives of roughly half a million Americans, and an economic crisis that has cost more than 5 million women their jobs and driven millions more women out of the workforce altogether, we need Neera Tanden to be confirmed as the Director of the White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB),” leaders from the AFL-CIO, National Women’s Law Center, Time’s Up, New America and others groups wrote in a letter to senators.
The letter highlighted Tanden’s policy expertise around gender discrimination, the child care industry and economic inequality, noting she “has spent her entire career focused on advancing policies that advance gender equity.”
“The imposition of a double standard for a young woman of color with an incredibly rich policy background is notable.”
Her supporters said she was being held to a different standard than other nominees — particularly from Republicans, who for four years supported a president known for his toxic tweets.
“The imposition of a double standard for a young woman of color with an incredibly rich policy background is notable,” said Vicki Shabo, a fellow at New America who signed the letter. “I don’t see why a strong woman expressing her opinions, who is otherwise eminently qualified to hold the post to which she’s been nominated should be dinged for what a senator might consider a lapse in decorum.”
The letter did not mention Tanden’s social media history.
While Manchin opposed Tanden, he voted for Trump nominee Richard Grenell to be ambassador to Germany in 2018 ― even though Grenell had a long history as a Twitter troll, with rude and sexist messages. Manchin said that the difference between the two was timing. After the Capitol riot on Jan. 6 ― which was carried out by Trump supporters ― Manchin said he believed the country now “can’t have that type of animosity.”
Tanden’s history of attacking the party’s left wing and association with the Democratic establishment’s bias toward Hillary Clinton during the party’s 2016 presidential primary has also undermined her nomination.
Republican senators, in particular, relished revisiting her comments about Sanders as evidence that her bile was not solely directed at conservative enemies.
In a joking reference to a 1979 “Saturday Night Live” skit, Sen. John Kennedy (R-La.) quipped that Tanden had called Sanders “everything but an ignorant slut.”
Tanden correctly denied that her rhetoric had ever ventured that far.
But Kennedy successfully pressed Tanden to admit that she had meant her comments when she said them.
“Senator, I must have meant them, but I really regret them,” Tanden said.