By Andrew Restuccia and Eliza Collins
WASHINGTON -- The fate of Neera Tanden's nomination to lead the
Office of Management and Budget came down to two centrist senators
after another Republican added his name to the list of lawmakers
who oppose confirming her.
Republican Sen. Chuck Grassley of Iowa said on Thursday that he
would vote against Ms. Tanden. Mr. Grassley, who often votes with
other Republicans but has backed many of President Biden's cabinet
nominees so far, had not disclosed his position.
The White House is now homing in on Sens. Lisa Murkowski (R.,
Alaska) and Kyrsten Sinema (D., Ariz.), people involved in the
discussions said. A "no" vote from either senator, neither of whom
has so far tipped her hand, would doom Ms. Tanden's chances of
clearing the Senate.
Executive branch nominations require a majority vote of 51
senators to pass the chamber. Vice President Kamala Harris can
break a tie. Because control of the Senate is divided evenly
between Democrats and Republicans, even one Democratic defection
can throw a nomination into uncertainty.
Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia said last week that
he would vote against Ms. Tanden, meaning a Republican would have
to break with other members of the party and join the remaining 49
Democrats for the nomination to pass. If Ms. Sinema joins Mr.
Manchin in opposing her, Ms. Tanden would need a second Republican
to cross party lines, an outcome that Senate aides said was
Ms. Murkowski was seen going into Majority Leader Chuck
Schumer's office with the New York Democrat Thursday afternoon. She
declined to answer questions about Ms. Tanden. Later, Mr. Schumer
declined to detail their conversation other than to say it was
"about issues that we both care about." Ms. Murkowski told
reporters on Wednesday that the White House had been in touch with
her about setting up a meeting with Ms. Tanden, to whom she said
she had not yet spoken.
The Alaska senator said that, so far, the White House's pitch to
her had been: "The president nominated her."
Ms. Tanden has faced criticism from some lawmakers for her past
statements on social media while she led a center-left think tank
in Washington, which included jabs at senators. She compared Sen.
Mitch McConnell (R., Ky.) to Voldemort, the Harry Potter villain;
she referred to Sen. Susan Collins of Maine -- a centrist who has
backed all of Mr. Biden's nominees besides Ms. Tanden -- as "the
worst"; and she said that "vampires have more heart" than Sen. Ted
Cruz (R., Texas).
At her confirmation hearings earlier this month, Ms. Tanden
apologized for her comments and pledged to be nonpartisan if
confirmed to the role by the Senate. Ms. Tanden's supporters
accused lawmakers of a double standard, noting that Republicans
regularly ignored former President Donald Trump's Twitter
Ms. Murkowski said she learned Wednesday that Ms. Tanden had
tweeted that Ms. Murkowski seemed to be "high on your own supply"
when the Alaska senator tweeted praise for the 2017 tax bill. "You
know, we know, and everyone knows this is all garbage. Just stop,"
Ms. Tanden said in her tweet.
"I was trying to look at competence, but apparently I'm going to
have to do more looking into what she thinks about me," Ms.
A spokeswoman for Ms. Sinema, who rarely speaks to reporters in
the Capitol, said the senator doesn't preview votes.
White House chief of staff Ron Klain said during an interview
Wednesday night with MSNBC that he thought the rest of the Senate
Democrats, besides Mr. Manchin, would stick together. "I think
we'll get Neera confirmed if we can find the Republican vote," he
said. "That's what we're working on now. That's what we're trying
to get done here."
Mr. Klain said Ms. Tanden would likely receive another job in
the administration that doesn't require Senate approval if she is
not confirmed to lead OMB.
Sen. Gary Peters (D., Mich.), who chairs the Homeland Security
and Governmental Affairs Committee -- one of two panels that
postponed preliminary votes on Ms. Tanden's nomination Wednesday --
told reporters Thursday he had no updates.
"We've given our members a little more time to assess her
qualifications and her nomination. They just needed more time," he
Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders (I., Vt.), who chairs the Budget
Committee, the other panel that delayed a vote, told reporters
Wednesday: "There's no secret she's lacking the votes right now and
she's working hard to try to get the votes."
The path to confirmation for two other nominees, which had been
unknown earlier in the week, seemed clearer by Thursday.
Rep. Deb Haaland (D., N.M.), Mr. Biden's pick to lead the
Interior Department, secured Mr. Manchin's backing on Wednesday. He
said even though they disagreed on some issues, she had reaffirmed
a commitment to working in a bipartisan way. Mr. Manchin, who
represents a coal-reliant state, was seen as the most likely
Democrat to oppose Ms. Haaland.
Meanwhile, Ms. Collins said Thursday she had a good conversation
with California Attorney General Xavier Becerra, the nominee for
Health and Human Services secretary, and believed he had done well
in his hearing. She hasn't said how she will vote.
Write to Andrew Restuccia at Andrew.Restuccia@wsj.com and Eliza
Collins at firstname.lastname@example.org.
(END) Dow Jones Newswires
February 25, 2021 16:15 ET (21:15 GMT)
Copyright (c) 2021 Dow Jones & Company, Inc.