The Biden administration will find another role for Neera Tanden, the president’s pick for budget director, should her controversial nomination fail in the Senate, White House Chief of Staff Ron Klain said on Wednesday.
Klain said President Joe Biden is continuing to support Tanden as head of the Office of Management and Budget but his comments marked the first time a senior administration official described contingency plans if her nomination collapses.
“If Neera Tanden is not confirmed, she will not become the budget director, we will find some other place for her to serve in the administration that doesn’t require Senate confirmation,” Klain told MSNBC. “But let me be clear: We’re gonna get Neera Tanden confirmed.”
Klain said the White House is “fighting our guts out to get her confirmed” and hoping one Republican would offer support after West Virginia Democrat Joe Manchin said he would vote against her. Klain cited Senator Chuck Grassley of Iowa as one of the lawmakers who has said he is open-minded about her nomination.
Senate committees on Budget and on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs delayed votes planned for Wednesday on Tanden’s nomination, without announcing when they might be rescheduled. Budget Chairman Bernie Sanders, a Vermont progressive who had been at odds with Tanden in the past, said his panel’s vote was delayed because she didn’t have enough support.
The Biden administration this week stepped up efforts to win over senators of both parties who have been put off by Tanden’s sharp words for lawmakers. White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said they’re not yet at the point of withdrawing the nomination.
“Neera Tanden has a record of working with people who disagree with her, working with people who have different viewpoints, and different objectives and priorities, and that’s something she would certainly take into the job if she’s confirmed,” Psaki said.
Biden’s allies on Capitol Hill on Wednesday were reaching out to Democrats who haven’t expressed support yet for the nominee.
“We’re doing a full scale effort, including the White House and members, to find support,” Democratic Whip Dick Durbin said Wednesday. Asked whether her nomination is in trouble, he said, “We’re working hard to make sure she’s out of trouble.”
Wednesday’s committee postponements hint at further unease. Even before her confirmation gets to a floor vote in the 50-50 chamber, she has to clear both panels where Democrats can’t afford to lose any members because of their slim control.
Tanden, 50, head of the left-leaning think tank Center for American Progress, has ties to Hillary Clinton and would be the first South Asian woman to lead the Office of Management and Budget. Although she was endorsed by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and Richard Trumka, head of the AFL-CIO labor union federation, she has made enemies on Capitol Hill by speaking negatively about Republicans and some progressives, including Sanders, the Budget chairman.
Tanden faced criticism during her confirmation hearing for tweets about the very U.S. senators she now needs to win over. She deleted many of her more controversial posts, which led some lawmakers to question how transparent and nonpartisan she would be in a White House role that must work closely with Congress.
Arizona Democrat Kyrsten Sinema, who serves on the Homeland Security Committee, hasn’t said whether she’ll support Tanden. Her office didn’t respond to requests for comment.
Opposition by her or Sanders, who also hasn’t said how he would vote, would require additional Republican votes for Tanden to win confirmation in the full Senate, which is divided evenly along party lines.
One of the few Republicans the White House could still woo is Alaska Senator Lisa Murkowski, a moderate who has broken with her party on other issues. Murkowski was among the people Tanden has targeted on Twitter, including one 2017 tweet about tax policy.
Murkowski said she wasn’t aware of that tweet when asked by reporters Wednesday. She said she had spoken with the White House about Tanden’s nomination.
“I suggested to the White House that my colleagues were being very critical of the statements and rightly so. And some of them were clearly over the top,” Murkowski said. “I don’t think that’s a model that we want to set for anybody — whether it’s a nominee, whether it’s a president or whether it’s a senator. So I’d like us all to cool that.”
“I was trying to look at competence but apparently I’m going to have to do more looking into what she thinks about me,” Murkowski said, laughing.
Grassley said earlier Wednesday he “had a couple of good conversations with her” and wants to discuss her nomination with other colleagues before deciding.
But Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell is pushing all of the chamber’s GOP members to vote against the nomination.
”I think that her record is pretty extensive of being very partisan, and there was a concern about whether or not that carries over to the job which is an important one and one we’re gonna have to work with people on your side,” Republican Whip John Thune of South Dakota said Wednesday. “I personally am not worried about tweets, but I do think that your digital footprint now should be a reminder that stuff that’s all going to come back to bite you at some point.”
Republicans still complain about Democratic delays confirming some of former President Donald Trump’s cabinet picks early in his term, some of whom later resigned amid ethics inquiries. Trump often used his Twitter feed for personal attacks on his opponents, which Republicans routinely declined to condemn.
If Tanden isn’t able to rally enough bipartisan support, some lawmakers are already pushing the Biden administration to elevate Shalanda Young, the House Appropriations Committee’s staff director and Biden’s pick for deputy budget director, as the top nominee.
“The Black Caucus is fully supporting Shalanda Young’s confirmation should Neera Tanden’s nomination be unsuccessful,” said Dominic Manecke, a spokesman for Black Caucus Chairwoman Joyce Beatty, an Ohio Democrat.
Alabama Senator Richard Shelby, the top Republican on the Appropriations Committee, said he doesn’t support Tanden, but he would support Young, saying “she’s very qualified, but that’s up to them.”