Neera Tanden must drop out

Her divisive candidacy threatens an early blow to Biden's Build Back Better agenda.

It is only a matter of time until Neera Tanden’s bid to lead the Office of Management and Budget runs headlong into a wall of at least 51 Senators. Her fate was sealed the moment Democratic Senator Joe Manchin announced that he would cross party lines and join Republicans in opposing her nomination. As a courtesy, the White House has issued the usual pro forma statements insisting that it still supports her candidacy — rather than letting her twist in the wind — and is giving her some time to try to swing a vote back.

Tanden is clearly desperate for the position; it would be the culmination of a long career climbing the party career ladder, and it would also be a kind of consolation prize after her disastrous campaign to elect Hillary Clinton five years ago. Selfish ambition may very well tempt her to take advantage of the Biden Administration’s generosity and bring this process through committee all the way to the Senate floor, hoping for some kind of last-minute miracle. Biden may very well let it happen; he is famous for his interpersonal loyalty, and may be inclined to let the process to play out out of respect, regardless of the consequences.

But a fight on the Senate floor would be disastrous. Tanden will lose, and when she loses, it will serve as an extremely public and decisive rebuke to Joe Biden and to the Democratic party’s nominal progressives. She will become an early, easy example for anyone who wants to argue that Biden is pushing a divisive, partisan agenda that only an empowered and unified Republican opposition can stop. And she will also serve as a lesson to the Biden Administration that even the Tanden nomination was a bridge too far, and that he will have to lurch even further to the right to get anything done.

Like the Democrats, I was very excited for Tanden’s nomination and the radical left-wing agenda she would have been able to advance through the OMB. Obviously Neera was too. But since that is off the table, only one question remains: will she let her own personal career aspirations endanger Joe Biden’s Build Back Better agenda? Or will she prove once and for all that she has the temperament, the maturity, and the commitment to progressive values that her critics all say she lacks? There’s only one way to do it: Neera Tanden can’t wait for the Biden Administration to pull her nomination. She needs to drop out.