A setback, but perhaps not the end: Why the alt-left's celebration over Neera Tanden's scuttled OMB nomination may prove premature

Neera Tanden & Mary Kay Henry

At her request, President Biden has withdrawn Neera Tanden's nomination to head the Office of Management and Budget. That news has the alt-left in a triumphant, jubilant mood. They  are ecstatic to sign up with the position of those they claim to hate: Republicans and conservative Democrats. To them, Tanden represented Biden's most direct snub of their Lord and Savior Bernie Sanders, with whom Tanden regularly clashed in the last two Democratic primaries, during both of which Tanden opposed Sanders and both of which Sanders lost.

I will not sugarcoat it: this is a major setback. This is a major setback for those of us who'd believed that a person's qualifications would, ultimately, triumph over some senators' newfound insistence on super-decorum even if that person were a woman of color and dared to support a woman for power, as Neera Tanden had done for Hillary Clinton. It's a major setback for those of us who believed Tanden's impressively progressive policy portfolio would be enough to for enough Senators to overlook their personal vendettas. At least in this case, we were wrong. Clearly, the same senators who never gave a damn about the rhetoric of vicious Trump nominees - or heck, even Trump himself - who were white and male have suddenly found that the national discourse has deteriorated so much that a brown woman with a sharp tongue - even one who has apologized for her previous tone - is unacceptable.

The administration's decision came after all viable doors to Tanden's confirmation closed with the unanimous opposition of Republican senators, joined by at least one Democrat, Joe Manchin. Bernie Sanders, the Chairman of the Senate Budget Committee - to whom some of Tanden's so-called mean tweets were once directed in the heat of the primary campaign in 2016 - never publicly stated that he opposed Tanden's nomination, but as the lead Senator on the Democratic side on this nomination, his indecision spoke volumes.

So the Biden administration did what it had to do. Unlike some who had made Tanden's mean (but accurate) tweets an issue, President Biden does not believe in magical vote fairies who will deliver votes that are just not there in the Senate, and withdrawing Tanden's nomination was the only option left. The president is blameless.

In fact, in his statement withdrawing Tanden's nomination, Biden left open the strong possibility that he will ask Tanden to serve in the administration in a different, albeit non-Senate-confirmed, capacity. There are any number of important policy roles that do not require a Senate confirmation that Tanden is well-qualified for, and I, for one, will hold out hope that we will soon see Tanden in one of those positions.

"I have the utmost respect for her record of accomplishment, her experience and her counsel, and I look forward to having her serve in a role in my Administration. She will bring valuable perspective and insight to our work."

- President Joe Biden

There is recent precedence for it, too. President Obama appointed Susan Rice as National Security Advisor after it became clear that the Senate - at the time still held by Democrats - would not confirm her as Secretary of State for much the same offenses as Tanden's: a woman of color who'd dare to speak out in forcefully in Hillary Clinton's defense.

There are several positions within the current administration where Tanden would be a rockstar, not to mention the President has the discretion to simply create an office or position within the Executive Office of the President. Some of these positions can launch major political careers. Sen. Elizabeth Warren began her career in Washington as the Chair of the Financial Oversight Panel in Congress and then was appointed by President Obama - without the need for Senate confirmation - as Special Advisor to stand up the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, before she launched her bid from Ted Kennedy's old Senate Seat from Massachusetts. Warren wielded far greater power over the particular policy portfolio for which she was chosen - and received far more attention - in her non-Senate confirmed position than most senate-confirmable cabinet appointees at the time.

So those celebrating the demise of Tanden's nomination to serve in a Senate-confirmed position may come to regret it should Tanden return to the Biden administration in a position that is just as consequential but does not require the acquiescence of Senatorial double standards. The President certainly seems to be previewing something along those lines.

I hold out hope.

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