WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. Senator Joe Manchin said on Friday he opposes President Joe Biden’s nomination of Neera Tanden to head the Office of Management and Budget, imperiling her chances of getting the job and introducing a new obstacle for the Democrats’ agenda.
Biden told reporters he did not intend to pull the nomination. “I think we’re gonna find the votes to get her confirmed,” Biden said.
Tanden has been criticized by Republicans - and some Democrats - over past harsh comments on social media, such as calling Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell “Moscow Mitch” and saying “vampires have more heart than (Senator) Ted Cruz.”
Many Democrats scoffed at such concerns, noting near-unanimous Republican support for former President Donald Trump, who was accused of inciting a deadly attack on the U.S. Capitol partly via inflammatory comments on Twitter and was known for blasting opponents - particularly women - as “nasty” or criminals who should be locked up.
Manchin cited Tanden’s “public statements and tweets” in his statement. “I believe 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,” he said.
His statement drew immediate condemnation, with some critics noting that the moderate Democrat - who represents the strongly Republican state of West Virginia - had backed some of Trump’s controversial nominees, including Richard Grenell to be ambassador to Germany.
Democrats had questioned Grenell’s appointment because of his past statements insulting to women politicians on the internet and during cable television appearances.
Manchin’s opposition underscored the influence that the moderate Democrat has over the ability of Biden’s Democrats to achieve the party’s policy goals, given their narrow control of the House and Senate.
His statement came as congressional Democrats look to pass a $1.9 trillion COVID relief bill by the end of next week. Facing stiff Republican opposition, that measure could also hinge on Manchin.
If every Senate Democrat had supported Tanden, she could have been confirmed without Republican votes since Democrats control 50 seats in the chamber and Vice President Kamala Harris can break a tie.
However, Manchin’s opposition means Tanden must be supported by a least one Republican.
Tanden, who is Indian-American, would be the first woman of color to serve as director of the OMB, which serves as gatekeeper for the $4 trillion federal budget.
Questioned at her confirmation hearings about her tweets, Tanden apologized and said she regretted their tone.
White House spokeswoman Jen Psaki praised Tanden as “an accomplished policy expert who would be an excellent Budget Director.” She said the administration would keep working toward her confirmation by engaging with both parties.
If Tanden is not confirmed, it would be a setback in a presidential transition that was already delayed by Trump’s refusal - backed by many of his fellow Republicans - to recognize Biden’s victory in the November election even after repeated court decisions showed there had been no widespread fraud.
So far, the handful of Biden nominees to have come before the Senate, including Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen, have been confirmed by comfortable margins with bipartisan support.
Biden could also install Tanden as director of OMB by making her a recess appointment, a temporary measure that could her allow to run the office for nearly two years.
Reporting by Patricia Zengerle; Additional reporting by Alexandra Alper and Trevor Hunnicutt; Editing by Jonathan Oatis, Bill Berkrot and Daniel Wallis
Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.