WASHINGTON — Two moderate Republicans on Monday announced their opposition to the nomination of Neera Tanden, President Biden’s pick to head the Office of Management and Budget, a significant setback that could doom her chances for confirmation.
The statements of opposition from Senators Susan Collins of Maine and Mitt Romney of Utah, two moderate Republicans with a professed willingness to work with the Biden administration, further winnowed Ms. Tanden’s chances in an evenly divided Senate. Three senators in four days have announced plans to vote against her, after Senator Joe Manchin III, Democrat of West Virginia, became the first to publicly oppose her confirmation.
A White House official said on Monday that it continued to stand behind Ms. Tanden’s nomination, but her path to confirmation is growing increasingly narrow. Her failure to win confirmation would be the first casualty for Mr. Biden, who has so far been able to win Senate support for several other cabinet picks, though many votes are still outstanding.
Ms. Tanden’s fate is endangered largely because of statements she made in the past, particularly on social media, in which she leveled partisan and often personal criticism at lawmakers in both parties. Republican lawmakers have increasingly questioned whether Ms. Tanden would be able to bring the kind of “unity” that Mr. Biden has promised.
Ms. Collins and Mr. Romney pointed to Ms. Tanden’s approach to social media — namely, a relentless stream of critical tweets that were quietly deleted before her confirmation hearings — as reason for their opposition. Ms. Collins was among those on the receiving end of Ms. Tanden’s online wrath, which extended to both lawmakers and activists in both parties.
“Her past actions have demonstrated exactly the kind of animosity that President Biden has pledged to transcend,” Ms. Collins said, adding that Ms. Tanden “has neither the experience nor the temperament” for the position. Her decision to quietly cleanse parts of her social media feed, she concluded, “raises concerns about her commitment to transparency.”
Shortly after that statement, a spokeswoman for Mr. Romney confirmed the senator’s opposition, noting that “he believes it’s hard to return to comity and respect with a nominee who has issued a thousand mean tweets.” It was unclear whether that would be enough to pull the nomination.
So far, the White House has indicated that it remains behind Ms. Tanden. Jen Psaki, the White House press secretary, said in a statement after Ms. Collins’s decision that Ms. Tanden “is an accomplished policy expert” and that the administration planned “continuing to work toward her confirmation through engagement with both parties.”
Ms. Psaki reiterated that support at a news briefing on Monday afternoon, calling Ms. Tanden “a brilliant policy expert with experience at the highest levels of government.” She added that Ms. Tanden has a wide spectrum of support and that she had “worked with partners across the ideological spectrum.”
“The president nominated her because he believes she’d be a stellar O.M.B. director,” Ms. Psaki said. When asked if the White House continued to believe that Ms. Tanden had a path to confirmation, Ms. Psaki said, “we do.” She also said the White House had been “working the phones” and had called Republicans and Democrats over the weekend to try to secure support for Ms. Tanden.
The New Washington
Ms. Tanden did not immediately respond to a request for comment about whether she planned to remain in the running for the job.
Mr. Biden nominated her even before Democrats wrestled back control of the Senate in January, surprising lawmakers and aides given her history of inflammatory statements. Ms. Tanden’s prospects have long appeared tenuous, given her criticism of Republicans and progressive Democrats after serving as an adviser to Hillary Clinton during her bid for the presidency in 2016.
“I’m working with President Biden to find the extra votes so she can be passed,” Senator Chuck Schumer of New York, the majority leader, said at a news conference this weekend in his state.
At her confirmation hearings this month before two Senate committees, Ms. Tanden apologized multiple times for personal attacks that she had leveled on Twitter at Republicans and progressive Democrats over the years. She said that she had deleted more than 1,000 tweets shortly after the election in November because she regretted her tone.
Although she promised to bring a radically different approach to her communication style if she assumed the job of budget director, she was confronted by Republicans with her comments about “Moscow Mitch” — a reference to Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the Republican leader — and her suggestion that “vampires have more heart than Ted Cruz,” the Republican senator from Texas.
Ms. Tanden does have the backing of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, but conservative political action groups and liberal activists have mobilized against her nomination, suggesting that she will be hard pressed to find support from other Republicans.
“Neera Tanden is an architect of Obamacare, cheerleader for the Green New Deal and advocate for socialism in America,” David M. McIntosh, the president of the Club for Growth, said this month. “Any senator that cares about working with O.M.B. to grow the economy — not destroy it — should vehemently oppose this nomination.”
Republicans were not the only ones who confronted Ms. Tanden. Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont, the chairman of the budget committee, asked her to “reflect” on some of the things that she had said about him and his progressive allies over the years.
“There were vicious attacks made against progressives, people who I have worked with, me personally,” said Mr. Sanders, who still has not said publicly whether he will vote for Ms. Tanden.
Progressives sought to further derail the nomination on Monday.
The activist group RootsAction coordinated a Twitter “storm,” with images and hashtags to encourage senators, including Mr. Sanders, to reject Ms. Tanden. The group pointed to the donations from foreign governments that her think tank, the Center for American Progress, received under her watch and her previous comments supporting cuts to social safety net programs.
“Tanden has become known as one of the most prominent anti-progressive voices of the neoliberal establishment,” the group said in a background document.