Joe Biden has withdrawn Neera Tanden’s nomination as White House budget director after a backlash against her history of tweets attacking political foes, in the first big setback to the US president’s efforts to build out his cabinet.
Biden’s failure to secure Senate confirmation for Tanden to take up one of the top economic jobs in the administration marked a rare misfire on cabinet selections by the president, who has managed to fill most of the big positions with overwhelming bipartisan support.
But the episode has also triggered criticism of the mainly Republican lawmakers who opposed her nomination for being biased against women of colour, and hypocritical given their tolerance of Donald Trump’s abrasive social media posts throughout his campaigns and presidency.
Tanden’s chances of securing approval from the upper chamber of Congress had been called into question last week when at least one Democrat in addition to almost every Republican signalled their opposition to her nomination. Given the 50-50 split in the Senate, this left no way for her to win the necessary votes.
“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,” Tanden wrote in a letter to Biden that was published by the White House.
Biden said he had “utmost respect for Tanden’s record of accomplishment, her experience and her counsel” and suggested that she would be tapped for another job in the administration.
Her confirmation was jeopardised after Republican senators said she lacked the proper temperament for the job, citing a series of partisan tweets that criticised them over the years.
“You wrote that Susan Collins is ‘the worst’, that Tom Cotton is a fraud, that vampires have more heart than Ted Cruz, you called leader McConnell ‘Moscow Mitch’ and Voldemort,” Rob Portman, the Republican senator from Ohio, said at Tanden’s confirmation hearing, during which she apologised for the posts, many of which she subsequently deleted.
Joe Manchin, the Democratic senator from West Virginia, agreed with the Republican criticism, effectively dooming Tanden’s chances. In a last-ditch effort to save her confirmation, Tanden this week spoke to Lisa Murkowski, the Alaska Republican senator who was still undecided, but that effort was not sufficient.
Tanden, who led the Center for American Progress, a left-leaning think-tank, and formerly advised Hillary Clinton, did not just offend Republicans, but also clashed on social media with some progressive activists, particularly supporters of Bernie Sanders, the Vermont senator who mounted two unsuccessful challenges for the Democratic presidential nomination.
But while Tanden had participated in plenty of political feuding over the years, she was also known for her policy expertise that was squarely aligned with the centre of the Democratic party and supporters said her withdrawal was simply the result of bias.
“Neera Tanden is being forced to pay the price for all the women of colour who stood up, spoke truth to power and beat Trump. I have no doubt she’ll land on her feet and do great things. But it’s wrong and we should speak up and stand with her,” said Joyce Vance, a former federal prosecutor and law professor at the University of Alabama.
As Tanden’s chances of confirmation faded, members of the Senate focused on possible replacements, with Shalanda Young, Biden’s choice to be deputy budget director, emerging as the frontrunner.
Gene Sperling, who served as director of the National Economic Council for Barack Obama and Bill Clinton, had also been considered as a possible candidate for the job.
Even as he pulled Tanden’s nomination, Biden scored a victory as the Senate approved Cecilia Rouse to chair the White House council of economic advisers, making her the first black woman to hold the position.