Neera Tanden’s imperiled confirmation to lead the Office of Management and Budget in the Biden White House hinges on the support of Sen. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, a key GOP senator with a history of crossing party lines on Capitol Hill.
Murkowski is the only Republican still publicly undecided on Tanden’s nomination to run OMB, which oversees federal government operations and is in charge of releasing the president’s budget proposal.
If she comes out against Tanden, the nominee’s path to confirmation will likely disappear in the evenly divided 50-50 Senate. One Democrat, Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia, has already announced his opposition ― and another, Sen. Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona, still hasn’t said whether she plans to vote for Tanden.
Republicans maintain that Tanden is too partisan and hard-charging, citing tweets she posted over the past several years criticizing GOP members of Congress. As president of the Center for American Progress, a think tank aligned with the Democratic establishment, Tanden maintained a combative presence on Twitter, taking aim at lawmakers on both the left and right.
In one tweet from 2017 that surfaced this week, she was critical of Murkowski after the senator argued that lowering the corporate tax rate would help the economy. “No offense, but this sounds like you’re high on your own supply,” Tanden wrote at the time.
Asked to respond to the tweet on Wednesday, Murkowski, her voice dripping with sarcasm, told reporters, “High on my own supply? That’s interesting.”
The Alaska senator was spotted speaking with Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) in his office on Thursday, raising speculation that a deal was possibly in the works to secure Murkowski’s support for Tanden. The Democratic leader was tight-lipped after the meeting, telling reporters, “I always have nice conversations with her.”
“We talked about issues that we both care about ― that’s all,” Schumer added.
While it’s not clear what their meeting was about, it’s rare for members of the opposite party to huddle in the office of a Senate leader. A spokesperson for Murkowski did not immediately return a request for comment.
Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) suggested to reporters on Thursday that Murkowski may be trying to use her leverage to win concessions from the Biden administration on its executive orders targeting oil and gas drilling in the Arctic, which the senator opposes.
“I know that Sen. Murkowski feels like Alaska was targeted by the administration in some of the executive orders ― for example, the drilling on public lands and the cancellation of ANWR,” said Cornyn, referring to Biden’s orders to halt oil and gas leasing on federal lands and waters and to block drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.
The White House continues to publicly stand by Tanden amid the criticism of her online remarks. Tanden “apologized for her past comments” at her confirmation hearing and would be joining an administration with “a high bar for civility and engagement,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki said at a press conference on Thursday.
“We certainly expect that she would meet that bar,” Psaki added.
But Democrats have been privately complaining about how sloppy the White House has been with Tanden’s confirmation process, not doing enough outreach to the Senate before announcing her nomination ― Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), the chairman of the Senate Budget Committee, was not consulted ahead of time ― and not adequately preparing for how controversial she would be.
“They prepped ZERO for this,” said one Democratic senator.
Tanden’s confirmation has effectively stalled in the Senate, with planned committee votes on her nomination postponed indefinitely in both the Budget Committee and the Homeland Security Committee.
Many Democrats see hypocrisy and a double standard in the Republican response to the nomination, given how little concern many Republicans showed over ugly tweets from then-President Donald Trump, including many that targeted GOP senators themselves.
“The idea that the Republicans are going to complain over someone who has sharp elbows on Twitter is pretty outrageous,” Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) told HuffPost on Wednesday.
“She stayed within bounds,” Warren added of Tanden. “She didn’t call people ugly names. I just think this is inappropriate that she should be denied an opportunity to be in public service.”