Two of President Joe Biden’s cabinet picks are in the hot seat this week. Here’s what both sides are saying. To have stories like this and more delivered directly to your inbox, be sure to sign up for our newsletter. Photo Credit: Gage Skidmore.
Top Story: Biden’s Cabinet Picks
Alexis Simendinger and Al Weaver from The Hill report: “For Neera Tanden, Biden’s outspoken progressive pick to lead the Office of Management and Budget, Monday’s pile-up of senators vowing to vote against her confirmation was not a good omen.
Tanden’s nomination is near collapse, despite protestations from the White House and a promise by Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer (D-NY) to find enough votes to put the tart-Tweeting president of the Center for American Progress in a new job that requires regular interaction with lawmakers and their staffs.”
Meanwhile, Ricardo Alonso-Zaldivar reports for the Associated Press that President Joe Biden’s pick for health secretary, Xavier Becerra, faces two days of contentious Senate hearings. Republicans are portraying the Californian as unfit for the job, but Democrats are unfazed and accuse the GOP of playing politics despite the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.
On The Right
While GOP members point out that Democrats obstructed Trump Administration appointments at unprecedented levels, they advocate for greater accommodation with Biden’s cabinet picks in the spirit of bipartisanship. This does not mean, however, that they won’t draw lines in the sand with respect to more controversial nominations.
In National Review, Kevin Hassett makes the case that Republicans enjoy both power and precedent in their ability to obstruct Biden nominations. According to Hasset, “A key consideration for Republicans will be whether they should plan to follow the Democrats’ playbook of stonewalling and delaying every Trump nominee in an unprecedented manner. If they do, it might slow the harmful regulations the Biden team plans to cast hither and yon.” He goes on to highlight a method of obstruction whereby Senate rules allowed Democrats to “extend debate on each nominee until Republicans invoked a cloture vote to end the debate.” By utilizing these procedures, Democrats effectively “stalled legislation while undermining Trump’s ability to govern.” He describes a Trump administration that was “left without a full team in place for virtually the entire term.” In fact, “As of December 1, 2020, 357 Trump nominees still required cloture votes. During the entire Obama administration, the personnel office reported that only 17 nominees were held up in such a manner. Such restraint was a bipartisan tradition.”
Despite this recent precedent, Hassett doesn’t advocate for obstruction because “our Founding Fathers envisioned a world where the victor gets to govern, and if his policies fail, the voters can hold him accountable.” Instead, he urges compromise from both sides: Republicans should not mimic Democratic obstructionism as long as Democrats don’t rally behind their most controversial nominees.
Philip Wegmann writes in Real Clear Politics that the nomination of Neera Tanden for OMB Director represents one of the most controversial Biden administration decisions. Tanden is polarizing due to her history of throwing verbal bombs at members from both parties. Senator Joe Manchin of West Virginia, a key Democratic swing vote, says he will oppose her nomination. In a written statement, he states: “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.”
However, some conservatives like GOP stalwart Mitch Daniels are willing to bury the hatchet. Daniels believes that Republicans certainly have “legitimate grievances” with respect to both Democratic obstructionism and Tanden, who he says “Tweeted or otherwise emitted a number of unkind, personal nastygrams aimed at some of those who now will consider her nomination.” Still, Daniels believes that “confirmation of Tanden in particular would demonstrate a willingness, not seen often in recent days, to overlook the personal and the petty, to honor the biblical injunction and ‘return no one evil for evil.’” Daniels views GOP accommodation as “a chance to demonstrate it, along with a degree of magnanimity.”
As for Xavier Becerra, however, Rich Lowry argues in National Review that his nomination should represent a line in the sand. He cites Becerra’s petty legal harassment of Little Sisters of the Poor during his tenure as Attorney General of California. Lowry asks that GOP leadership insist that “Becerra drop his litigation, apologize to the Little Sisters, withdraw his nomination, stay in California — and try to do better.”
While Republicans seem ready to compromise rather than mimic the extreme lengths Democrats went to previously, it is unclear what exactly they will require from any future agreements.
On The Left
With the exception of Senator Joe Manchin, progressives and left-leaning commentators are unified in their support of Tanden. They oppose what they consider an unfair double standard applied by Republicans. They are urging their moderate swing voters in the Senate not to bend to GOP pressure.
Steve Benen, writing for MSNBC, views Tanden as a sacrificial lamb. He writes that “nearly all of President Joe Biden’s nominees pending on Capitol Hill are likely to be confirmed,” while lamenting hypocrisy on the part of Tandern’s critics. He focuses his criticism on Senator Joe Manchin and Republican Susan Collins of Maine, who voted in favor of previous nominees like Richard Grenell, Mike Pompeo, and Brett Kavanaugh, who were just as divisive as Tanden. As Benen sees it, “despite (or perhaps because of?) his obnoxious behavior on Twitter, Donald Trump nominated Ric Grenell for a diplomatic post. Care to guess which ‘moderate’ senators voted to confirm him?” Benen asks. He then points to Manchin and Collins and closes with a pessimistic outlook for Tanden’s confirmation, stating that she is “apparently being held to a different standard” and that “her odds of success are falling.”
Meanwhile, conservative commentator Hugh Hewitt writing for the left-leaning Washington Post attempts to persuade readers that “Presidents are entitled to broad deference in how to assemble their Cabinet and [Tanden’s] ‘mean Tweets’ are in no way disqualifying.” As Hewitt sees it, “This is especially true when it comes to the Office of Management and Budget, which is almost an extension of the White House staff. The closer one gets to the Oval Office, the more deference a president’s nominees should receive on policy grounds.” Hewitt goes on to say that “It’s time to reset the confirmation bar to exclude only serious objections, not the fact that some senators carry grudges and that the group as a whole wants a safe harbor from mean Tweets.” He urges the GOP to “confirm Tanden — and start a new page for executive branch nominees.”
As it relates to Beccara, Maggie Severns sings his praises in POLITICO. She writes that he will “have the power to make public benefits for undocumented workers a reality.” Severns believes that there is “wide, though hardly unanimous, support among Democrats to allow states to use federal funds to cover undocumented workers, either by allowing them to buy into the ACA exchanges without any government subsidy or, more controversially, to utilize Medicaid.” She also points to some “moderates, including some Hispanic lawmakers, who sense that any such moves would be flashpoints for grass-roots opposition.” While Severns strongly supports his nomination, she nonetheless anticipates a fight for Becerra’s nomination.
Although Democratic commentators are intent on sticking with Tanden, they lack optimism regarding her confirmation.
Flag This About Biden’s Cabinet Picks
Vox and Data for Progress polled likely voters to determine their expectations for a Biden cabinet. The poll found that voters in both parties wish to see less corporate influence, with 74% of Democrats and 64% of Republicans agreeing that “big corporations and the ultra-wealthy have had too much influence in past administrations.” Meanwhile, Democratic voters are calling for a diverse set of progressive appointments who reflect the racial, ethnic, and gender composition of the country as a whole. In the coming weeks, progressive Democrats will look to apply pressure on party moderates who express aversion to some of the more controversial nominees.