A month after arriving at the White House, Joe Biden’s government is still not formed. Several ministers have still not been validated by the Senate, including the Minister of Health – a climax in the midst of a pandemic – but also the head of the Budget Office, Neera Tanden. Everywhere else, the affair would seem anecdotal. However, after having been auditioned by the senators, Neera Tanden was still not assured this Saturday, February 20 to be confirmed in her functions by the elected officials.
Why? Because West Virginia Democratic Senator Joe Manchin is against it. And since the distribution of votes in the Senate is 50-50 between Democrats and Republicans, this becomes perilous. Including for the president. Is Joe Manchin one of those elected members of the left of the party who are wary of a presidential agenda that would be too centrist and favorable to Wall Street? At all. Joe Manchin is one of the most conservative Democrats.
According to him, Neera Tanden is unreliable and her tweets denouncing radicals on both sides of the political spectrum are, in his eyes, insults that disqualify her from being neutral and independent. These tweets, Neera Tanden wrote them while she was directing the “Center for American Progress”, a Clintonian think tank at the beginning, very openly became a suggestion box for the Obama administration and then for the Joe Biden campaign. During her hearing in the Senate, she regretted them by considering that they reflected what she thought in her previous functions and that she would not allow herself such an attitude to the direction of the budgetary affairs of the country.
The Budget Office, the OMB, is not strictly a part of the government, it is supposed to be independent and plays the role of a budget secretariat, a court of accounts and a control or audit of government actions taken. The person who heads the OMB must have a relationship of trust with the president while being sufficiently independent and reporting regularly to Congress, which implies healthy relations with the elected representatives of the two major parties.
Settling of scores on the Democratic side
This refusal of Joe Manchin to vote in favor of Neera Tanden, illustrates one of the flaws of the Democratic Party. If all currents of the party have mobilized to support the Biden campaign, the hour of reckoning, once in power, seems to have sounded. At least for the right wing of the party. Joe Manchin has never made a secret of the good relations he maintains with the Republicans and in particular with the leader of the former right-wing majority, the senator of Kentucky, Mitch McConnell, whose cowardice Neera Tanden, precisely, has regularly denounced. and opportunism in recent years in the face of an unmanageable Donald Trump.
If this 50-year-old political consultant, daughter of Indian immigrants trained at Yale and UCLA, two of the most progressive colleges in the university space, has become the target of the right and Joe Manchin to be judged too left, it is at the same time criticized on the left for being too centrist. A classic in politics but one which, in a country as deeply divided as America today, is a vulnerability.
The elected officials of the left wing criticize him for the generous funding from Wall Street which his think tank has benefited from, his indulgence towards the business community and his pikes towards the “progressives”, in particular one to the regard to Bernie Sanders alluding to his great age and his lack of economic realism. The truth is that it is more Neera Tanden’s Clinton past and her friendship for Hillary as well as her involvement at the highest level in her two presidential campaigns that is targeted. Settlement of personal accounts certainly, but which seriously threatens the candidate for the Budget.
Through it, it is of course Joe Biden who is weakened. After all, he was the one who appointed her, seeking to give pledges to each of the party’s factions when nominated to the highest positions in his administration. When it came to composing his government, he did not seek, as Barack Obama had done with Robert Gates at the Pentagon, to reach out to a Republican. He preferred the whole of his camp under the same tent, as they say in the United States. Convinced that it was better to be all united between Democrats rather than to seek bridges and alliances with Republicans depending on the circumstances. But, in this game, it is better to be sure of the cohesion of your family. However, the differences in approach between the right wing and the left wing of the party, if they could have been silenced in the unifying fight against Donald Trump, were condemned to be expressed, sooner or later, in broad dayligh
Unity and positioning of the republican right will be decisive
While Joe Biden is only a third of his first 100 days, the ordeal is anticipated to say the least. The dilemma is this. Should we at all costs, as Joe Biden suggests, settle this case behind the scenes by imposing Neera Tanden on Joe Manchin and Bernie Sanders? The former Delaware senator and former vice president is used to dealings and compromises in the halls of Congress he has frequented for more than 30 years. Or defuse the crisis by proposing someone else for the job? This would only make the exercise more complicated since it is a question of satisfying actors at the limits of the irreconcilable.
Here we have, life-size, which is likely to pollute the first two years of Joe Biden. As long as the Republican right does not offer more visibility on the ability of its anti-Trump wing to come to terms with the Democrats, it is impossible for the president to chart his course on the legislative front, except, perhaps, for his great infrastructure renovation project where allegiances are more geographic and economic than ideological.
And as long as the Democratic Party is not resolved to remain completely united behind its president in order to offer no loopholes to adversity, it is also impossible for Joe Biden to give ground to grind to an opinion which expects a lot from this news time. The Senate was presented as the mother of all battles should Joe Biden win. It was in Georgia. This will be until the 2022 midterm elections.