• Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.

Biden's pick to lead White House budget office faces pushback from senators

  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.

President Joe Biden is facing pushback from fellow Democrats over his pick to lead the Office of Management and Budget, Neera Tanden. CBS News senior White House and political correspondent Ed O'Keefe and Los Angeles Times congressional reporter Jennifer Haberkorn join CBSN's Lana Zak to discuss.

Video Transcript

LANA ZAK: President Biden is facing push-back from fellow Democrats over one of his cabinet nominees, and the president picked Neera Tanden to lead the Office of Management and Budget, but she may not have enough support on Capitol Hill, partially due to past social media posts criticizing lawmakers. The White House is still standing behind Tanden, and Mr. Biden said on Tuesday he thinks that she has a good shot to still be confirmed. Ed O'Keefe has the latest.

ED O'KEEFE: President Biden tonight says he's disappointed by how slowly his cabinet is coming together.

JOE BIDEN: I don't so much blame it on the Senate. I blame it on the failure to have a transition that was rational.

ED O'KEEFE: After a bumpy transition and the impeachment trial, just nine of Mr. Biden's cabinet nominees have been confirmed. The pace of confirmations is lagging compared to similar points in previous presidencies. Just today, two committees canceled votes on Neera Tanden, the president's pick for budget director. West Virginia Democratic Senator, Joe Manchin, says he won't support her, citing years of sharply partisan comments on air and online about members of both parties.

BERNIE SANDERS: I think it's no secret she is lacking the votes right now, but she's working hard to try to get the votes.

ED O'KEEFE: White House officials tell CBS News they're sticking with her. But in the 50-50 Senate, Democratic defections can be fatal for a Biden pick, so Tanden now requires GOP support.

JEN PSAKI: It's a numbers game, right? It's a matter of getting one Republican to support her nomination. We're continuing to do that outreach.

ED O'KEEFE: Alaska Senator, Lisa Murkowski, could be that one, but tonight says she's not yet made a decision. Tanden had deleted more than 1,000 tweets before being nominated, but late tonight, a newly surfaced tweet shows she'd even attacked Murkowski in the past.

LANA ZAK: And Ed O'Keefe and Jennifer Haberkorn join me now. Ed is the CBS News Senior White House and political correspondent, and Jennifer is a congressional reporter for the Los Angeles Times. Ed, Let's start off right where your package ended with that tweet that came after Senator Lisa Murkowski. We heard her actually responding to it kind of quizzically. Do you see any indication that the White House may start moving away from full support from Miss Tanden's nomination as director of the Office of Management and Budget? Is there still a path for her to be confirmed?

ED O'KEEFE: If Senator Murkowski signs on and says that she's for her, then yes. But if not, it would be mathematically impossible because you've got too many Republicans saying they would vote against her, and you now have Joe Manchin, the Democrat from West Virginia, saying he'd vote against her. You'd add up that. That's about 51 right there, and that's the ballgame. Notable that Senator Murkowski, in response to seeing that tweet tonight, told reporters at the Capitol, well, it just shows I've got more homework to do.

What, if anything, the Senator may be holding out for, what she'd like to learn, or why she's leaving a nominee to twist in the wind is unclear, but certainly, that's where Tanden is. And if you thought that today was the day that the White House might cut her loose, you'd be mistaken. They continue to insist that they are selling her. They are working to get her confirmed. They believe it's still possible. Let's see what tomorrow brings because at this point you're down to just about one Republican Senator who says she still has many questions that she'd like to ask.

LANA ZAK: So, Jennifer, you heard Ed mentioned the slow pace of confirmations for President Biden's cabinet nominees. How is a process currently playing out on Capitol Hill?

JENNIFER HABERKORN: Well, as Ed mentioned, not very well. Neera Tanden's nomination looks like it's going to go down unless there's some kind of miracle or Lisa Murkowski decides to save her, and that's really the first nomination that it looks like Biden is not going to be able to get through. Some of those other nominees are running into opposition. It does not appear that it's going to be fatal at this point, but Republicans have a lot of frustration with Xavier Becerra, Biden's pick for the HHS Secretary job. It looks like he's going to have a hard time getting many Republican votes, and Deb Haaland for interior is facing some opposition from Republicans.

But as Ed exactly mentioned, this is a numbers game. If Democrats can keep all 50 of their Democrats together, these nominees can get through and Biden can have a full cabinet. But if he can't, that's where he runs into trouble and needs to pick off Republicans. And if there's Democrats who are opposed to these nominees, it's going to be harder and harder to pick up any of these Republicans.

That said, any one Republican could have a lot of leverage. If Lisa Murkowski right now went to the White House and said, yes, I want to vote for Neera Tanden, she would have a lot of leverage to get whatever she wants, frankly, in a negotiation.

LANA ZAK: Yeah. And Jennifer, that's actually where my mind immediately goes because at the same time that they may be expending political capital to try and confirm some of these more contentious nominees, the president's $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief bill is expected to come up for a vote. We know that it's expected to pass in the House later this week, but what's expected when it comes to the Senate?

JENNIFER HABERKORN: The Senate is a little bit of an unknown right now. Democrats don't yet have the 50 votes that they would need. It looks like there's going to be few Republicans, if any. I predict, frankly, that there's going to be no Republicans in the Senate voting for this. So that means Democrats have to keep all 50. Again, Joe Manchin is going to be a pivotal vote here, and he's not crazy about a $15 minimum wage, one of the key items that Democrats want to put in their bill.

So every vote is going to be important. Democrats are also-- don't know yet if some of their provisions are going to get through a complicated legislative process that's required to try to circumvent a filibuster, which Senate Democrats are hoping to do here. So, as you mentioned, House passage is all but guaranteed. And in the Senate, you know, Joe Biden is probably going to have to make some phone calls, perhaps twist some arms and really work hard to get the votes here.

LANA ZAK: So, Ed, as promised, I want to come back to you on this point because where the Biden administration is putting their political capital right now is an interesting question, especially since we know that they have said that their top priority is in fact this coronavirus relief bill. Do you get a sense at the White House that they are interested to continue to pursue all these nominations like Miss Tanden's nomination, or eventually, if they decide they don't have the votes, they're not willing to give something up in order to get that confirmation?

ED O'KEEFE: You know, we'll see. The fact that they're holding on and believe that there might be a shot at getting at least one Republican vote I think speaks to a strategy at this White House that they're hoping to employ, and that is to find ways to work with Republicans. We are a little more than a month now into this presidency, and we haven't seen real palpable results from the bipartisan outreach which, frankly, is happening on both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue. There are Republicans that are eager to come and talk to this president about specific issues.

So let's see what Murkowski might be able to get out of them. Let's see if it's related to either Neera Tanden's nominations specifically or maybe something else, including potentially that COVID bill for all we know. Because as far as we've heard, while there's been some op-ed writing done by Republicans griping about the fact that they don't think the White House is taking their concerns about the size and scope of that COVID bill seriously, nobody here and nobody-- well, a few people certainly up on the Hill seem to think that there's no chance still for Republicans to get something out of this.

Once that bill as passed by the House comes to the Senate, it is going to require some changes. And it's at that point that we can anticipate Republicans are probably going to try to engage on getting some of those changes, perhaps to give people like Joe Manchin and Senator Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona some cover, but also because they see it as an opportunity to get involved.

And even if it passes with bipartisan approval in the Senate, doesn't necessarily mean you pick up Republican votes over in the House, but the White House will be able to walk away and say that they got bipartisan support for it. So it's going to get through the House by the end of this week. It's when it gets over to the Senate next week that things are going to get interesting, and it's also why you're trying to see the Senate get as many confirmations done as possible before that legislative work begins because once you get locked into that COVID bill, it'll be hard to get to anything else.

So you see a vote coming on the energy secretary, probably on the education secretary soon, possibly on the attorney general pick, Merrick Garland, by earlier mid next week.

LANA ZAK: Not to mention that they need all of those positions filled to just get their agenda passed. All right. Ed O'Keefe, Jennifer Haberkorn. Thank you both.