White House stands by budget pick Neera Tanden as Senate support wavers

Ms Neera Tanden has made critical comments on Twitter about Republicans and Democrats. PHOTO: AFP

WASHINGTON (REUTERS) - The White House said it was not prepared to withdraw President Joe Biden's pick for budget director, Ms Neera Tanden, whose nomination stalled on Capitol Hill on Wednesday (Feb 24) after controversy over tweets that upset lawmakers.

Two Senate committees postponed scheduled meetings to consider Ms Tanden's nomination, a clear sign she was struggling to get the votes to be approved and could thus become the first high-profile Mr Biden nominee to be rejected.

But Mr Biden, a Democrat, still supports Ms Tanden, an Indian American who would be the first woman of colour to lead the agency.

"Neera Tanden is a leading policy expert who brings critical qualifications to the table during this time of unprecedented crisis," his press secretary Jen Psaki wrote on Twitter.

Asked later at the White House whether Ms Tanden had offered to withdraw her nomination, Ms Psaki said, "That's not the stage we're in."

"It's a numbers game, it's a matter of getting one Republican to support her nomination," Ms Psaki said.

White House Chief of Staff Ron Klain told MSNBC "we're fighting our guts out" to get Ms Tanden confirmed but if the effort fails, "we will find some other place for her to serve the administration that doesn't require Senate confirmation."

Ms Tanden has apologised for harsh tweets about Republicans but she ran into trouble after a moderate Democratic senator, Mr Joe Manchin, said he would not vote for her, and two moderate Republicans seen as potential "yes" votes said they would vote "no" over past tweets.

Republican Senators Susan Collins and Mitt Romney both cited concerns that Ms Tanden, 50, would be too divisive to lead the Office of Management and Budget which manages the US$4 trillion (S$5.28 trillion) federal budget.

The Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee postponed a morning meeting where Ms Tanden was going to be discussed, with the chairman, Senator Gary Peters, saying "people needed a little bit more time to assess" her nomination.

The Senate Budget Committee postponed a similar meeting. "It didn't look like she had the votes," said the panel's chairman, Senator Bernie Sanders.

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

Ms Tanden's advocates have brushed off the concerns, noting that Republicans backed former President Donald Trump, who often used Twitter to harangue political opponents.

"For four years, I've heard senators walking around saying 'I don't read the tweets,'" Senator Ron Wyden, a Democrat, told reporters. "Now, all of a sudden, tweets seem to be driving a particularly important appointment."

With the Senate divided 50-50 between the Republican and Democratic caucuses, and Mr Manchin's refusal to back her, Ms Tanden will need the support of at least one Republican to win confirmation in the Senate.

Senator Lisa Murkowski was seen as one of the last remaining moderate Republicans but has not announced how she will vote.

Ms Tanden, who served in the administrations of Democratic former Presidents Bill Clinton and Barack Obama, runs the liberal Centre for American Progress think tank.

She has vowed to work with Republicans if confirmed.

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