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Neera Tanden withdraws nomination to lead Office of Management and Budget

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President Biden's pick to lead the Office of Management and Budget, Neera Tanden, withdrew her nomination Tuesday. Tanden's nomination had faced heavy opposition in the Senate and her nomination appeared to be in doubt. Reuters White House correspondent Jeff Mason joins CBSN's Elaine Quijano to discuss.

Video Transcript

- The president's pick to lead the Office of Management and Budget has withdrawn her nomination. Neera Tanden faced opposition from both sides of the aisle over past tweets. Her confirmation was appearing unlikely. President Biden says, he has accepted her request to withdraw her name. He also says he has the "utmost respect for her record of accomplishment."

Meanwhile, the president also made a major announcement about the US effort to produce coronavirus vaccines. He said drug maker Merck will collaborate with Johnson and Johnson to make that company's vaccine. And as we mentioned, Mr. Biden says, the US will have enough vaccines for every adult by the end of May.

Jeff Mason joins me now. He's a White House correspondent for Reuters. Hi, there Jeff. Good to see you, so let's talk about Neera Tanden. Because this is a story that had been brewing for some time. The White House, late last week, said, it was standing by Neera Tanden's denomination. What led to her decision to withdraw her nomination, and who is the White House considering to replace her?

JEFF MASON: Well, you're certainly right. The White House did say last week and has been saying all along that they stand by Neera Tanden. And despite the blowback that she got from Republicans on the Hill and then some Democrats, they kept saying, she's our person, and we're going to stick with her.

What happened? I don't think we know exactly yet. My guess is they heard definitively from Lisa Murkowski, that she would not jump the Republican ship and cross sides to vote for Neera Tanden. And that was, basically, the last possible vote that they could get after Senator Manchin, who's a Democrat, said that he would not be supporting her. So without that, and as Tanden said in the letter, withdrawal, she just didn't have a path forward.

- So possible replacements here. We've heard about the person who was supposed to be the number two being championed by Republicans of all people.

JEFF MASON: Yeah, I'm not sure who you mean there. I know that Gene Sperling is one that has been listed. He was a advisor in the Obama administration and in the Clinton administration. There was also an advisor from California who was a runner up. Maybe that's who you had in mind. I don't have her name at the tip of my tongue who's been mentioned.

- Yeah, Shalanda Young is the person that, I believe, a couple of Republicans had mentioned as potentially being someone that they would be OK with. Some senators had signaled support for her, but obviously, these are fast moving developments. And there's a lot of positioning, shall we say, as you very well know, that goes along and pressuring that goes along with these confirmations.

But it will be interesting to hear about Lisa Murkowski's deliberations on this point, so we'll wait for those details. I also want to ask you, though, Jeff, about vaccines. Because as we heard, President Biden says that the United States is going to have enough vaccine supply for every adult by the end of May.

I mean, you think about that, and it's kind of mind blowing for folks to think about where things were just a few months ago and the prospect of just trying to get ramped up for mass vaccinations. And now, the president is saying, the end of May. How did the administration get to this point?

JEFF MASON: Well, you have to assume that Johnson and Johnson's entry into the vaccine world with its latest vaccine having achieved emergency authorization from the FDA is helping with that. So you have three vaccines out in the mix and a Biden administration that is doing everything that it can to speed up, what the president likes to say, getting vaccinators out there in the public to get the vaccine into people's arms. So they've worked really hard.

They've said that they came and inherited a mess. There are Trump officials, who would dispute that. But in any case, the Biden team owns this, now, and it was good news, what the president was able to announce this afternoon that, that time frame has moved up.

That doesn't mean that at the end of May, everything's going to be great, and he made that clear today too. He said that he wants to make clear that people need to keep wearing masks, need to keep washing their hands, need to keep maintaining social distance, and that was an implicit rebuke, I think, of Texas and Mississippi for deciding to lift those restrictions. That's the opposite of what health professionals and this White House have been calling for, despite the good news on the vaccine.

- Yeah, so the president also called on states to ensure that educators have, at least, one dose of the vaccine by the end of this month. Now, this comes after the administration said that teacher vaccinations were not a prerequisite for opening schools. So Jeff, I'm wondering. Is the administration sort of changing its position here?

JEFF MASON: Well, it's been a tricky issue for the Bush administration. It's been a tricky issue for the Trump administration, too, but it's been particularly tricky, I think, for the Biden White House to find that line. And critics have said that it's because of the huge support that Democrats get from teachers unions who have largely opposed going back to school without that vaccine. So I think what we saw President Biden doing, today, is trying to walk that line, saying, it is possible to get back into school and to do it safely without the vaccine. But he is prioritizing and urging states to prioritize getting those shots into teacher's arms right away.

- Well, Jeff, President Biden called into a meeting of Democratic senators Tuesday. According to the White House, he discussed his $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief plan. Where do things currently stand on getting the plan passed?

JEFF MASON: Well it's passed the House, and that's a big development. And now, it needs to get through the Senate, and basically, he needs to get some of the more moderate Democratic senators to be sure that they're on board with that number and with everything that's in it. So there's a little bit of haggling still going on, and we've seen a little bit of back and forth on that.

It's still an open question, although, probably an answer to open question as to whether or not he'll get Republican support. But the White House is optimistic that they're going to get this done, possibly with some changes. But, in general, they expect to get the bulk of what they want and to get it in the coming weeks.

- Yeah, because with the time frame, here, there's no Republican support for the bill in the Senate. You have this evenly divided Senate. How concerned is the White House about getting it passed before those unemployment benefits expire? It's about, what? Less than two weeks now for millions of Americans.

JEFF MASON: That's right. I think they see urgency. There's no question they see urgency. And you can tell that just from the fact that they've put off the president's speech to Congress, what would be sort of like a State of the Union, although, it's not called State of the Union his first year.

He wants to get this done, first, and he wants to get this done. So that he can then move on to an infrastructure bill, which they're referring to as a build back better bill, which will also have some climate change aspects to it. But number one, they want to get this done because of what you just said, Elaine, because of that deadline for the expiration of unemployment benefits.

So do I think they're worried? I definitely think they see urgency. No question about that, but I think they're confident that it's going to get done.

- All right, Jeff Mason of Reuters. Jeff, always good to have you on this busy Tuesday especially. Thank you.

JEFF MASON: Thank you.