Joe Biden had to give up on Tuesday his candidate to lead the budget in the White House, Neera Tanden, in the face of opposition from key senators, the first setback for the new Democratic president who has a very narrow majority in the Congress.
For weeks, the White House had courted a handful of Republican senators and moderate Democrats who now hold the power to block, or save, its big plans. Wasted effort. “I accepted Neera Tanden’s request to withdraw” his candidacy, Joe Biden said in a statement.
Democrat Joe Manchin condemned his chances
Republican senators but also a Democrat had openly declared themselves against his arrival as director of the Office of Management and Budget at the White House (OMB), a very powerful service, in particular responsible for developing the budget desired by the President.
Republicans said they were outraged by old comments targeting them by name, while progressives close to Bernie Sanders considered her too centrist.
In the end, it was a more conservative Democrat, Joe Manchin, who in fact condemned his chances by announcing, at the end of February, that he would not vote for her. He felt that his “overtly political” statements would have a “toxic impact” on relations between Congress and the White House.
Battles ahead in the Senate
Democrats have a very narrow majority in the upper house, with 50 senators versus 50 Republicans. In the event of a tie, Vice-President Kamala Harris has one vote to decide the vote. Presidential nominations need 51 votes to be approved by the Senate. Any Democratic defection must therefore be compensated by a Republican vote.
“Unfortunately, it now seems obvious that there is no way to get confirmation,” Neera Tanden wrote to Joe Biden as he withdrew his candidacy.
So far, his other appointments have been approved, often by an overwhelming majority. And Democrats have started pushing his big bills forward in the House of Representatives, where they also hold a majority.
But the fall of Neera Tanden heralds the other tougher battles to come in the Senate. And signals the great power of a handful of senators: Joe Manchin but also Kyrsten Sinema (Arizona) among the Democrats, and for the Republicans, Lisa Murkoswi (Alaska) and Susan Collins (Maine).
Avoid the so-called “filibuster” obstacle
The next obstacle, starting this week: the expected vote in the upper house on the vast stimulus plan for the American economy, hit by the pandemic. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said Tuesday he had “enough” votes (51) to approve this bill by the weekend. But it is only because the text will not include an increase in the minimum wage, unlike the initial project, that it was able to show such assurance.
Because Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema had declared themselves against this precise measure, threatening to sink the entire aid plan which does not count, for the moment, of Republican support. This duo don’t have much in common, apart from their relatively conservative positions, which earned them the wrath of the progressives. With, first of all, their opposition to a reform of the Senate which would make it possible to adopt all the laws without going through a first vote requiring 60 votes.
Without this rule change, to avoid the so-called “filibuster” obstacle, the Democrats, and Joe Biden, will have to find the support of at least ten Republicans if they want to approve their next big projects: police reform and immigration, gun laws … An almost inconceivable prospect in such a divided Congress.
The next two years, until the parliamentary elections, should be marked by “deadlock” in Congress, predicts Larry Sabato, political scientist at the University of Virginia at Agence France Presse (AFP). “But I bet there will be more trade-offs than we expect.”