Neera Tanden fulfilled her role as a distraction for Biden’s other nominees
On Tuesday evening, the White House formally withdrew President Joe Biden’s nomination of Neera Tanden for director of the Office of Management and Budget. The move came after days of speculation of such a move despite Press Secretary Jen Psaki insisting that Tanden had their full support. It was clear, though, that Tanden didn’t have enough support to secure a confirmation.
This is because Senate Republicans waged a war over Tanden pretty much from the moment she was nominated. Her incendiary tweets against many Republicans were sure to incite outrage from those members of the Senate, but Tanden was also a vicious opponent of Bernie Sanders and thus drew ire from the progressive wing of the Democratic Party, almost ensuring she’d never clear a confirmation process.
So, then, why did Biden even nominate her? The answer, though unlikely to ever be confirmed, is because she was meant to be a distraction. Tanden was a sacrificial lamb of sorts. Her highly controversial resume – which includes union-busting, punching a reporter, and mishandling sexual harassment allegations – was more than enough to paint an easy target for Republicans to attack.
More than that, it was an easy target that meant Republicans didn’t have to work as hard to drum up anger over other Biden nominees, such as Secretary of State Antony Blinken, Treasurer Janet Yellen, and Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin. There were plenty of reasons to oppose all three of these individuals, along with a few other key Biden cabinet picks, but those reasons take more explaining than “Look at these mean tweets!”
For instance, Blinken has long supported regime change policies that ultimately jeopardized national security, while Austin had direct ties to military contractor Raytheon that have already brought into question the ethics of his Defense Department decision-making. Meanwhile, Yellen was the former chair of the Federal Reserve and her confirmation to run the US Treasury effectively erased any and all remaining distinctions between it and the executive branch of the federal government; on top of that, Yellen’s deep ties on Wall Street were problematic for anyone concerned about big banks’ influence on politics.
And yet, all three of these picks came and went with little to no opposition. Blinken was confirmed in the Senate with a 78-22 vote. Austin received a strong 93-2 vote to confirm, with even staunch non-interventionist Rand Paul voting for him. And Yellen’s 84-15 confirmation vote was never even close to being in trouble. Even Pete Buttigieg, who made plenty of enemies on both sides during his presidential bid, was easily confirmed to be the Secretary of Transportation despite having no relevant experience to the department.
It was a perfect storm of Biden strategically picking relatively boring people for his cabinet spots, where any opposition would have to be built from the ground up and based on philosophical arguments more than anything, while the odd selection of firebrand Tanden distracted everyone else. It also explains why Tanden was specifically selected for the OMB spot, which never made sense given her relevant experience in politics.
The reality is that Tanden was simply supposed to draw the ire of everyone, distract them from the quietly problematic nominees for more important positions, and then withdraw from consideration after the big fishes were in place. And to that end, the plan worked almost perfectly, with the lone exception being the unexpected fight over Merrick Garland’s nomination to be Attorney General; even then, Garland won a 15-7 vote to advance out of committee, and seems likely to get a (narrow) confirmation to the post. But with Tanden officially out, there will be more time to devote to Garland, setting up his impending floor vote for the next battle of the Biden Administration.