Biden withdraws budget chief pick after Senate pushback

Ms Neera Tanden had made tweets in which she disparaged lawmakers. PHOTO: REUTERS

WASHINGTON (AFP) - Mr Joe Biden on Tuesday (March 2) abandoned his plan for Ms Neera Tanden to be White House budget director after pushback from key senators, marking the first cabinet defeat for the United States president.

The nomination collapsed when centrists on both sides of the political aisle made clear they were not going to vote for Ms Tanden thanks to several of her previous tweets in which she disparaged lawmakers, including some who would have been charged with voting on her confirmation.

The decision to withdraw Ms Tanden's nomination reflected the tenuous hold his Democrats have on the Senate.

Her backers decried what they called a hypocritical and sexist push to punish Ms Tanden for harsh tweets after four years of similar language used by former Republican President Donald Trump.

"I have accepted Neera Tanden's request to withdraw her name from nomination for Director of the Office of Management and Budget," Mr Biden said in a statement.

"I have the utmost respect for her record of accomplishment, her experience and her counsel, and I look forward to having her serve in a role in my administration."

The announcement came amid growing recognition that Ms Tanden, who currently heads a progressive think tank, did not have enough support after one Democrat and multiple moderate Republicans in the evenly divided Senate said they would not vote for her.

"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," Ms Tanden, 50, wrote Mr Biden in a letter withdrawing her nomination.

Several other Biden picks have made it into their posts with bipartisan support, including Secretary of State Antony Blinken, Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen and Pentagon chief Lloyd Austin.

Two more nominees were confirmed Tuesday: Council of Economic Advisors chair Cecilia Rouse, the first Black person to serve in the position, and Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo.

The Tanden defeat highlights the extraordinary power that now rests in the hands of a single moderate Democrat, Senator Joe Manchin of West Virginia, who announced last week that he would oppose her.

With the chamber deadlocked at 50-50, Mr Biden needs the entire Democratic caucus to hang together on nominations and critical pieces of legislation if they do not earn Republican support.

Ms Tanden, an Indian American, would have been the first woman of color to lead the Office of Management and Budget, which manages the US$4 trillion (S$5.3 trillion) federal budget.

She served in the administrations of former Democratic Presidents Bill Clinton and Barack Obama and currently runs the liberal Center for American Progress.

Ms Tanden has apologised for harsh tweets about Republicans during her confirmation hearings, but ultimately was unable to convince senators she could lead the OMB.

Ms Tanden has made critical comments on Twitter about Republicans and Democrats, and in 2016 about Mr Manchin's daughter, then the chief executive of pharmaceutical firm Mylan, after the company raised prices for its anti-allergy EpiPen.

Later this week the Senate is expected to vote on the US$1.9 trillion Covid relief package. No Republican has offered their support for the bill.

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