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.
“I have accepted Neera Tanden’s request to withdraw” his candidacy, Joe Biden said in a statement.
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.
Four key senators
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 clear that there is no way to get confirmation,” Neera Tanden wrote to Joe Biden as he withdrew his candidacy.
A former senator for more than 35 years, the Democrat prides himself on knowing the house and wanting to seek inter-party agreements in Congress.
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).
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.
Threat of a “dead end”
Your direct and often grumpy tone for Joe Manchin, 73, and media discretion contrasting with the wigs and colorful outfits of Kyrsten Sinema, 44, the first openly bisexual Senate candidate in 2018. The duo do not have much in common, put apart from his relatively conservative positions, which earned him the wrath of the progressives.
With, first of all, their opposition to a reform of the Senate which would allow all laws to be adopted 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 legislation …
An almost inconceivable prospect in such a divided Congress.
Democrats “will be more and more angry when they see that the Senate kills all their priorities,” predicts Larry Sabato, a political scientist at the University of Virginia.
The next two years, until the parliamentary elections, should be marked by a “deadlock” in Congress, he told AFP.
“But I bet there will be more trade-offs than we expect,” he continues.
“Because if nothing that Democrats want can get through the Senate, nothing that Republicans want can get through the House, or the Senate, either. Republicans also want to get things done.”