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Explained: Why Biden’s nominations of Neera Tanden, Vivek Murthy are under threat

Who are Neera Tanden and Vivek Murthy, and why are their nominations by US President Joe Biden in trouble?

By: Explained Desk | New Delhi |
Updated: February 23, 2021 8:29:44 am
USNeera Tanden (L) is Hillary Clinton’s former aide and worked with her during Clinton’s first presidential campaign in 2008 . Vivek Murthy, who has served under former President Barack Obama, is Biden’s pick for the health team (file photo)

In November last year, US President Joe Biden nominated Indian-origin Neera Tanden — president and CEO of think tank Centre for American Progress (CAP), and CEO of the American Progress Action Fund — as his budget chief.

Biden also appointed Vivek Murthy – who has over two decades of experience serving as a physician, research scientist, and former Vice Admiral in the Public Health Service Commissioned Corps – as a co-chair in his task force setup to contain the Covid-19 pandemic.

Their nominations now need to be confirmed by the US Senate.

Who are Neera Tanden and Vivek Murthy?

Tanden –– who is Hillary Clinton’s former aide and worked with her during Clinton’s first presidential campaign in 2008 –– was nominated by Biden to take over as the Director of the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) – responsible for managing the Biden administration’s expenditure.

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On her Twitter profile, Tanden describes herself as, “President of @amprog-Center for American Progress, liberal, Indian American, feminist, mom, wife. Not in that order.”

In a 2012 interview she gave to C-Span, Tanden said when she was studying at the University of California, Los Angeles she started getting involved in student government, and ran for her first and only elected office, for vice president of the student body of UCLA, which she won.

Tanden’s parents divorced when she was five and she was raised by a single mother who was on welfare for over two years thereafter. Tanden has previously said she is a living example of someone who has been helped by government schemes such as food stamps, free and reduced lunches and subsidised housing.

As the head of the OMB, Tanden would be responsible for the development and execution of the budget, managing regulatory policy, legislative clearance and coordination and dealing with executive orders and presidential memoranda.

Murthy – who has served under former President Barack Obama – is Biden’s pick for the health team, which will be led by Xavier Becerra. As the surgeon general, Murthy’s responsibilities include being one of Biden’s closest advisers on questions related to the pandemic and handling the government’s public outreach.

Murthy was born in 1977 in Huddersfield, Yorkshire and was brought up in Miami by his parents who were medical practitioners from Karnataka. When Obama was campaigning for president in 2008, Murthy founded Doctors for Obama to support him against Senator John McCain. In 2014, Murthy was confirmed as the 19th US Surgeon General, a position he held until 2017.

What is the approval process followed by the Senate?

As per Article 2, Section II under the US Constitution the president “shall nominate, and by and with the Advice and Consent of the Senate, shall appoint Ambassadors, other public Ministers and Consuls, Judges of the Supreme Court, and all other Officers of the United States, whose Appointments are not herein otherwise provided for…”.

For instance, the president nominates all federal judges in the judicial branch and specified officers in cabinet-level departments, independent agencies, the military services, the Foreign Service and uniformed civilian services, as well as US attorneys and US marshals.

In recent years, the Senate website notes, more than 300 positions in 14 cabinet agencies and more than 100 positions in independent and other agencies have been subject to presidential appointments.

“Approximately 4,000 civilian and 65,000 military nominations are submitted to the Senate during each two-year session of Congress. The vast majority are routinely confirmed, while a very small but sometimes highly visible number fail to receive action,” the website says.

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Why is their nomination in trouble?

In Tanden’s case, her Senate confirmation may be in trouble because of Democratic Senator Joe Manchin’s announcement on Friday that he will not vote for Tanden because of her “overtly partisan statements” referring to her statements against Senators Mitch McConnell, Bernie Sanders and a few others.

Manchin’s opposition to Tanden will cast serious doubts on her ability to take over the cabinet-level position. This time, Democrats and Republicans have 50 members each in the Senate, but because any tie-breaking votes will be cast by Vice-president Kamala Harris, Democrats have a majority in the Senate.

Therefore, considering Manchin’s announcement, Tanden’s approval will require the backing of at least one Republican Senator.

In the case of Murthy, he was removed by former President Donald Trump as the surgeon general in 2017. As per some media reports, he attracted criticism from the National Rifle Association (NRA) because of comments that said gun control was a health issue. Even his first appointment under Obama was delayed by the Senate and took nearly a year.

This time, Murthy’s “financial entanglements”, the Washington Post reported, have come under scrutiny. The paper reported that Murthy made millions of dollars during the course of the last one year in consultation fees related to the coronavirus.

This has caught the attention of some watchdogs who are now raising questions about Murthy’s credibility to take over as surgeon general and give impartial advice. Importantly, because of Murthy’s past comments regarding gun control, Senator Manchin might play a decisive role in his nomination as well considering he supports gun rights and voted against Murthy in 2014.

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