Feb 21, 2021 - Politics & Policy

Collins' likely "no" on Tanden a sign of Biden's peril

Photo illustration of a large hand motioning to stop Neera Tanden and Michael Regan

Photo Illustration: Annelise Capossela. Photos: Anna Moneymaker/The New York Times/Bloomberg via Getty, Joshua Roberts/Getty Images

Close associates of Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) tell Axios they're convinced she’ll vote against Neera Tanden to be the director of the Office of Management and Budget, eliminating a possible safety valve to save the nomination.

Why it matters: Tanden's uphill climb is emblematic of the challenges facing some of President Biden's remaining high-profile nominees. Interior Department pick Deb Haaland, Health and Human Services secretary-designate Xavier Becerra and Attorney General designee Merrick Garland risk varying outcomes.

Sen. Joe Manchin’s surprise announcement last week that he opposed Tanden effectively put the White House on notice that any number of their nominees could implode in the 50-50 Senate.

  • Democrats are privately concerned Manchin (D-W.Va.) isn’t finished trying to wield veto power and could announce his opposition to some of Biden’s environmental nominees.
  • Potential targets include Michael Regan, the nominee to lead the Environmental Protection Agency, and Elizabeth Klein, the nominee for deputy Interior secretary.
  • Manchin sued the EPA in 2010 while serving as governor of West Virginia.

His defection over Tanden also was a reminder to the White House that there’s no margin for error on looming legislative battles, from potential tax increases to climate policy.

  • A “no” vote from Collins doesn't seal Tanden's fate but makes it less likely she would be confirmed. The White House is redoubling its efforts to convince Republicans to support her.
  • Collins hasn’t publicly indicated how she will vote, saying last November, “I’ve heard that she’s a very prolific user of Twitter.” A Collins spokesman didn't immediately respond to a request to comment.
  • Tanden, who once called Collins "the worst" on Twitter, has apologized for her tweets and met with 35 Democratic and Republican senators.

The intrigue: Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), whose Budget Committee is expected to vote on Tanden this week, has been coy if he'll support her. “I will be talking to Ms. Tanden early next week,” he said Friday on CNN.

  • And if Republicans like Sens. Mitt Romney of Utah or Lisa Murkowski of Alaska decide to vote in favor of Tanden, Sanders could still announce his opposition.
  • Some outside Republicans, like former OMB director and Indiana governor Mitch Daniels, are trying to convince their party to turn the page on ugly confirmation battles.
  • “Confirming Neera Tanden would be a small and cost-free step toward reviving the comity and civility we have lost,” Daniels wrote in the Washington Post.

What they are saying: With Tanden in peril, Democrats are more confident Becerra, the attorney general of California, and Haaland, a House member from New Mexico, will be confirmed.

  • There have been questions about Becerra's health care knowledge and criticism Haaland has resorted to Democratic talking points while discussing Interior policies.
  • “In my conversations with Senate Democrats, what I’m hearing is a huge sense of relief that in Attorney General Becerra, we’ll have a qualified, experienced leader,” said Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.). “I’m also thrilled, as so many of us are, with Rep. Haaland’s historic nomination as secretary of Interior.”
  • Garland is viewed as a cinch to head the Department of Justice.

Be smart: From the outset, Biden officials have been orchestrating advocacy campaigns for their nominees, working with outside groups and sympathetic senators to build support.

  • Tanden and the Center for American Progress, which she leads, have championed the expansion of the child tax credit — an idea Romney and outgoing Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) also support.
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