WASHINGTON (Reuters) – President Joe Biden on Tuesday withdrew the nomination of Neera Tanden to be his budget director after she ran into stiff opposition over tweets that upset lawmakers, in the first Capitol Hill rebuff of one of his nominees.
“I have accepted Neera Tanden’s request to withdraw her name from nomination for director of the Office of Management and Budget,” Biden said in a short statement on Tuesday.
The decision to withdraw Tanden’s nomination reflected the tenuous hold his Democrats have on the Senate.
With the Senate split 50-50, Vice President Kamala Harris could have cast a tie-breaking vote in Tanden’s favor. But that was not an option after moderate Democratic Senator Joe Manchin said he would not vote to approve the think tank director.
Manchin’s defection had sent the White House – and Tanden – scrambling to find one Republican backer. But they ultimately came up empty-handed, even after a last-minute meeting with Republican Senator Lisa Murkowski on Monday.
Her backers decried what they called a hypocritical and sexist push to punish Tanden for harsh tweets directed at both Democrats and Republicans, after four years of similar language used by Republican former President Donald Trump.
Sherrilyn Ifill, president of the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund, tweeted: “Disheartening. For salty tweets. After what we’ve been through for 4 years.”
Biden said he still planned to have Tanden – a confidante of former Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton – serve in his administration, but did not say which job she might get.
Tanden, 50, an Indian American, would have been the first woman of color to lead the OMB, which manages the $4 trillion federal budget.
Shalanda Young, Biden’s pick for the No. 2 OMB job, has won the backing of the Congressional Black Caucus to replace Tanden. A former staffer in the House of Representatives, Young would be the second Black woman in Biden’s Cabinet if she were to become OMB director.
In an interview with CNN prior to the announcement that Tanden was withdrawing her nomination, Senate Budget Committee Chairman Bernie Sanders said Young did “really, really well” during her confirmation hearing on Tuesday for the deputy’s post.
Asked if he would support her for the top job, Sanders said: “Ms. Young made a very strong presentation today. … But it is the function of the president of the United States to make that nomination, not me.”
Other possible candidates include former National Economic Council Director Gene Sperling and Ann O’Leary, another former aide to Hillary Clinton. Biden’s transition team had discussed both for possible roles in the administration.
NO PATH FORWARD
In a letter released by the White House, Tanden told Biden her nomination had become more than an uphill climb.
“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 said.
Tanden, who served in the administrations of Democratic former Presidents Bill Clinton and Barack Obama, repeatedly apologized for her harsh tweets during her confirmation hearings, but ultimately was unable to convince senators she had the right personality to lead the OMB.
She had taken aim at lawmakers across the political spectrum, including Sanders, and in 2016 criticized Manchin’s daughter, then the chief executive of pharmaceutical firm Mylan, after the company raised prices for its anti-allergy EpiPen.
To shore up support, Tanden met with 46 different senators, advocacy groups, the business community, labor unions and faith leaders, even winning endorsements from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the Communications Workers of America and others.
(Reporting by Eric Beech, Nandita Bose, Jeff Mason and Trevor Hunnicutt; Writing by Andrea Shalal; Editing by Mohammad Zargham and Peter Cooney)