Neera Tanden testifies before the Senate Homeland Security and Government Affairs committee on her nomination to become the Director of the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), during a hearing.
( Leigh Vogel/Pool via AP
Tanzina Vega: President Joe Biden's cabinet is filling up gradually. So far, 9 of the 23 positions have been filled, but the remaining nominees are not going as smoothly as the Biden administration may have hoped. Yesterday, committee votes for Neera Tanden, Biden's pick to lead the Office of Management and Budget, were delayed amid opposition from Republicans and Democratic Senator Joe Manchin.
Representative Deb Haaland of New Mexico, nominee for Secretary of Interior, has faced tough questioning, especially from senators in fossil fuel-dependent states.
California Attorney General, Xavier Becerra, Biden's nominee for Health and Human Services Secretary is coming under fire for his stance on abortion and health care. Seung Min Kim is the White House reporter for The Washington Post, and she joins us now. How are you, Seung Min?
Seung Min Kim: Good. Thanks for having me.
Tanzina Vega: Let's get started. Republicans escalated their attacks against Deb Haaland during confirmation hearings this week. Senator Joe Manchin from West Virginia finally said he would support her, but why was he hesitant? What was the back-and-forth about Holland?
Seung Min Kim: Obviously, in Congresswoman Deb Haaland, President Biden nominated a really strong progressive to lead the Department of the Interior. As we know, this is also a groundbreaking nomination, the first Native American had to hold a cabinet position, but because of her liberal views, she really did come under a lot of criticism from Republicans. You saw a lot of Republicans resurface some of her old tweets that she had said about Republicans and read them back to her at her confirmation hearings. She was always going to probably come under a more scrutinizing confirmation process than perhaps some of the other candidates.
The reason why Senator Joe Manchin, particularly his role in this and what he eventually said yesterday was so critical was that he played a key role in potentially tanking another Obama nominee, Neera Tanden, the nominee to lead the Office of Management and Budget. Earlier this week, he indicated to reporters that he was undecided on Deb Haaland for Secretary of the Interior. A lot of that was because her hearing hadn't been held. Manchin does chair the committee that held Deb Haaland's confirmation hearing, so it does seem he was just trying to keep an open mind before she had a full airing of reviews and questions from senators from both sides of the aisle. But, Senator Manchin did come out yesterday in full support of her. So, we don't expect any actual confirmation problems with Deb Haaland at this point.
Tanzina Vega: Neera Tanden, on the other hand, is a different story.
Seung Min Kim: Definitely. We saw this happening last week when, again, Senator Manchin, in a little bit of a surprise statement, I would say, announced that he would oppose Neera Tanden for various reasons, but pointed to some of her more sharp and intemperate tweets that she had sent in the last several years, many targeting Republican lawmakers. That really mattered because we are divided in a 50/50 senate. So, even if you get all Democrats on board with a nominee, if you have all Republicans opposing, that means you need to bring in vice president Kamala Harris to break the tie.
With Joe Manchin saying no, that means you needed at least one Republican to come forward and say, "Yes, I will vote to support Neera Tanden," but we started looking at some of the usual suspects for Republican senators who may cross the aisle and support her, such as Mitt Romney of Utah and Senator Susan Collins of Maine. They both said earlier this week that they would not vote to confirm Neera Tanden.
We are all watching Senator Lisa Murkowski, a potential Republican of Alaska, but we are also watching another Democratic senator who may have issues with Neera Tanden's nomination, that's Kyrsten Sinema, a Democrat from Arizona. She's been very coy about whether she would support her or not, and Democratic leaders aren't even sure where she's thinking. For those reasons, a pair of key committee votes on Neera Tanden were pulled yesterday, which is never a good sign for a nomination.
Tanzina Vega: Tom Vilsack, the Secretary of Agriculture has already been approved, but what's interesting here, as you know, is that Bernie Sanders actually joined six Republicans in voting against him. What do we know about Bernie Sanders's decision to do that?
Seung Min Kim: It was a really interesting move. Obviously, we saw Secretary Vilsack serve the same role for eight years under the Obama administration, and he sailed through his confirmation process back in January of 2009. I actually did talk to Senator Sanders directly about this after the vote and he says, "Look, I have no problem with Tom. I think that he will do a good job in Ag, but he wanted someone who would be more aggressive in supporting family farms, the kind of farms that are in Vermont, and also be a little bit more aggressive in taking on big corporate agriculture entities." That was Senator Sanders' main objection to Vilsack as a nominee.
Tanzina Vega: We know that we've got many more cabinet positions to be filled. President Trump's impeachment hearing did take up some time, but we're back on track now, right? How long do we expect the rest of this to take?
Seung Min Kim: We are definitely back on track. I did a tally earlier this week before this kind of a confirmation blitz began, and at this point, Biden earlier this week, as of Monday, President Biden had had, I believe, seven Cabinet nominees confirmed, which was slower in pace in terms of his two immediate predecessors. At this point in their presidencies, Barack Obama had a dozen cabinet officials in place. President Trump had about nine in place, but you're right, a lot of that was delayed by the impeachment trial. It was also delayed, partly because of the unusual dynamic of the 50/50 senate, that it just took some time for committees to get organized, figure out who is chairman, how the powers were going to be divided between the two parties, and just get them up and running.
We have had a steady stream of confirmation this week. We had Linda Thomas-Greenfield as the ambassador to the United Nations. Obviously, we talked about Secretary Tom Vilsack, and we're on the verge of confirming Jennifer Granholm to Secretary of Energy this week. So, we're right back on track for the most part. It'll be a couple more weeks before everyone else is confirmed, but they seem to be back on pace.
Tanzina Vega: Seung Min Kim is White House reporter for The Washington Post. Thanks so much for joining us.
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