If Susan Collins is the measure of Joe Biden’s pledge for “unity” and bipartisanship, he’s failing miserably. Of course, nominating the firebrand Neera Tanden to go from the Center for American Progress to the Office of Management and Budget was itself an oddly risky choice with a 50-50 Senate. Having lost Joe Manchin on Friday, though, the White House has been trying to work the Republican caucus, and Collins had to have been their best hope to get back to a tie.
No dice, Collins announced this morning:
The moderate Republican’s rejection comes after Democratic U.S. Senator Joe Manchin on Friday announced he would not vote for Tanden, putting her nomination in doubt in the 50-50 divided chamber.
Biden on Friday said he still had confidence there would be enough votes in the Senate to confirm Tanden, who has been criticized by Republicans and some Democrats over past harsh comments on social media.
Both Collins and Manchin cited her Twitter posts in their statements. Tanden, an Indian-American who would be the first woman of color to lead the agency, apologized to senators at her confirmation hearing.
Looks like Tanden’s belated clean-up on her Twitter account didn’t really impress anyone. That keeps the score so far at a presumed 51 votes against, which would doom Tanden — assuming that the White House can’t get another Republican to cross the aisle at put the score back at 50-50. Jen Psaki is keeping hope alive, at least thus far:
Accomplished policy expert? She ran CAP for the last decade or so, which is a progressive activist group. It’s true they deal with policy, but they have analysts on hand for that work. Tanden chaired the group and spent a good deal of her time launching the kind of political attacks against her opponents that necessitate clean-ups on Aisle T, such as the one mentioned by both Collins and Manchin in their declarations of opposition. Biden would have been well advised to steer clear of Tanden in the first place, perhaps looking for a retired member of the House or Senate with enough legislative connections to smooth the way for Biden’s budget proposals.
This isn’t the only measure of Biden’s failure on unity with Collins. CNN reports this morning that Collins tried to reach out to Biden for a compromise on the COVID-19 relief/stimulus bill a couple of weeks ago. Biden himself seemed amenable — until his staff intervened:
It was Super Bowl Sunday — and President Joe Biden was on the phone with Sen. Susan Collins.
The Maine Republican had tried to make an urgent plea to the new president: Abandon the idea of going it alone with just Democrats on the $1.9 trillion relief bill and instead continue working on a bipartisan deal.
Biden, two sources familiar with the call said, was sounding out Collins, speaking freely to her and leaving the Republican with the distinct impression that he was receptive to deal-cutting with the GOP.
But the call quickly turned south after White House staff chimed in, with Collins and White House economic adviser Brian Deese engaging in an exchange about housing funding in the proposal — and the Senate Republican contending there was outstanding money yet to be spent.
The end result: No deal, reaffirming Biden’s view that the Republican approach was far too meager for the economic and public health crises at hand.
This sounds like it got leaked from the White House to take a swipe at Collins. It has the effect, however, of making Collins look reasonable and making Biden look like he’s not in control of his own White House. In any event, it also paints a picture of the context in which Collins made her decision on Tanden. Having been rebuffed after making the attempt to work out a compromise, Collins now looks like she’s in no mood to allow any more brick-throwers into the administration if she can help it.
So how does the White House rescue Tanden? Politico has an amusing scenario in mind:
Tanden’s best hope for confirmation now lies with finding support from MITT ROMNEY (R-Utah) or LISA MURKOWSKI (R-Alaska). There are two reasons they might step forward. Tanden is close to White House chief of staff RON KLAIN, and her defeat would be seen not just as a defeat for President JOE BIDEN but as a personal rebuke to Klain. If Biden and Klain want to go all-out to save Tanden, they could offer Romney or Murkowski or — less likely — another Republican something significant in return.
But the more intriguing motive for Romney or Murkowski to back Tanden has to do with the internal dynamics of the 50-50 Senate, where there’s a budding competition among centrists for primacy. If Tanden is defeated, Manchin will get credit for it.
As several Senate sources noted to us Sunday night, a true power move now — though one that’s still not likely — would be for a Republican moderate such as Romney or Murkowski to swoop in and save Tanden to show Manchin that he doesn’t actually run the Senate.
Er … what? Romney and Murkowski have every incentive to let Manchin feel like he runs the Senate. The alternative is pushing Manchin into Chuck Schumer’s arms and letting Schumer run the Senate. They’re not competing against Manchin — they’re wooing him to join their caucus as often as possible on an ad hoc basis, and perhaps permanently at some point. If they have even minimal cerebral capacity, they’re not going to embarrass Manchin to save Neera Tanden, especially when Biden’s not offering any bipartisanship at all at the moment.
Tanden’s nomination might not be fully dead yet, but Biden should be considering Plan B.
Update: Maybe it’s time to start looking through the pockets of the Tanden nomination for loose change:
That’s not a hard no, but it suuuuuuuure ain’t a friendly “mebbe” either.
Update: Actually, it was a hard “no”:
Now Biden needs two Republicans to flip in support for Tanden — and to undermine Manchin, Collins, and Romney. It’s not impossible, but it’s extremely unlikely, to say the least.