With help from Allie Bice
Welcome to POLITICO’s 2021 Transition Playbook, your guide to the first 100 days of the Biden administration
As NEERA TANDEN’s nomination for Office of Management and Budget director appeared to spectacularly collapse this week, conspiracy theories about the Biden administration’s first major political stumble began flying around Washington.
This wasn’t a loss, one Democrat on the Hill insisted. It was part of the three-dimensional chess game being played by Biden’s inner sanctum, with chief of staff RON KLAIN leading the way.
Just wait. We don’t know the next move, but the White House does, the person insisted. It’s light years ahead of us and it will all make sense.
Another hypothesis floating around Democratic circles: It was Clinton-world who pushed Tanden, the former head of the Center for American Progress who is close to JOHN PODESTA. She was an offering to the Clintons, who were grasping for power and wanted someone more loyal to them than Biden.
The Biden White House played along, knowing that she’d never win enough votes, given how she rattled both the left and the right. THAT’s why she was nominated when Democrats hadn’t even won the Senate.
What about not giving Sen. BERNIE SANDERS a head’s up? That was a misdirection!
The main takeaway: The handling of Tanden’s nomination appeared so ham-handed from the start that it must have been planned.
If Tanden’s struggles have exposed anything, it’s that Democrats have been holding onto a myth that the team who wrestled the presidential nomination away from dozens of primary competitors, then beat President DONALD TRUMP, would move into the White House and execute with a high level of precision and sophistication.
Then reality hit. And the disbelief among Democrats is palpable.
The cult of Klain has started to crack.
Look at the cast of brilliant minds in the White House, I was instructed. Do you really think that this group thought Senate Minority Leader MITCH McCONNELL (R-Ky.) would let Tanden get through the Senate?
And what about the president who bragged incessantly on the trail about his prowess with old-guard senators? Of course he knew how to keep his coalition together, some have argued.
There is a contingent of Democrats on the Hill and elsewhere who firmly believe these theories.
However, when I run them by anyone in or close to the White House, it’s met with a laugh, a gasp or a long, puzzled pause.
That’s because they know what we know: there’s no way of sugar-coating or pizza-gating the Tanden troubles. Unless the White House magically finds votes — and soon — this will be a loss for the president, pure and simple.
Even if a Republican senator like LISA MURKOWSKI (R-Alaska) or CHUCK GRASSLEY (R-Iowa) swoops in to rescue the nomination, the series of mishaps surrounding Tanden has already exposed failures within the administration.
Tanden was a nominee whom Biden strongly believed in and one that he drove, a person familiar with the deliberations said, adding that there was broad buy-in from the advisers who were involved. That only more firmly puts the problems she faces in his lap.
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In the Oval Office with Sens. TAMMY BALDWIN (D-Wis.), JOHN CORNYN (R-Texas), MARSHA BLACKBURN (R-Tenn.), MIKE BRAUN (R-Ind.), TAMMY DUCKWORTH (D-Ill.), MAGGIE HASSAN (D-N.H.), ROB PORTMAN (R-Ohio), MARK WARNER (D-Va.) and Reps. JOHN JOYCE (R-Pa.), DORIS MATSUI (D-Calif.) and MICHAEL McCAUL (R-Texas). They discussed improving the semiconductor supply chain. “It was one of the best meetings, best meetings we’ve had,” Biden told reporters. “It was like the old days.”
With Biden in the Oval Office.
With the Center for Presidential Transition
Which Biden Cabinet pick was such a skilled poker player growing up that he was offered a job as a dealer during a trip to Las Vegas with his parents: ALEJANDRO MAYORKAS, MERRICK GARLAND, MARTY WALSH or XAVIER BECERRA?
(Answer is at the bottom.)
REED ‘HOPEFUL’ PENTAGON PICK WILL BE CONFIRMED — Senate Armed Services Chairman JACK REED expressed optimism Wednesday that COLIN KAHL, Biden’s nominee to be the Pentagon’s top policy official, will be confirmed despite some Republican resistance. Per CONNOR O’BRIEN, Reed said he believes Kahl will get a “fair shot” to explain his views and make a case to be undersecretary of Defense for policy at his March 4 hearing.
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WITH FRIENDS LIKE THESE — ANN O’LEARY has been backing Tanden’s nomination to be OMB director and has lobbied the White House not to pull her nomination. At the same time, she’s been quietly touting herself as a less partisan alternative for the position, who could be confirmed in the Senate, CHRIS CADELAGO reports.
Chris got O’Leary on the phone and she effusively praised Tanden. “I have worked with her for years and years and I can’t imagine a better advocate for President Biden to get his budget through Congress and help manage the policies of this administration,” she said. “I am 1,000 percent behind her.”
SAY HER NAME, SAY HER NAME: The Biden administration doesn’t want to publicly talk about replacements for Tanden. Asked today about SHALANDA YOUNG, currently Biden’s nominee to be deputy OMB director, press secretary JEN PSAKI said: “There is one nominee to lead the budget department and her name is Neera Tanden.”
SIGHS OF RELIEF IN THE WEST WING — Sen. JOE MANCHIN (D-W.Va.) said on Wednesday he supported the nomination of Rep. DEB HAALAND (D-N.M.) to lead the Interior Department, days after announcing he couldn’t back Tanden, ANTHONY ADRAGNA reports.
“While we do not agree on every issue, she reaffirmed her strong commitment to bipartisanship, addressing the diverse needs of our country and maintaining our nation’s energy independence,” Manchin said in a statement. “I believe Deb Haaland will be a Secretary of the Interior for every American and will vote to confirm her.”
LET’S SAY CHINA: Ambassador WILLIAM BURNS, Biden’s nominee to lead the CIA, told the Senate Intelligence Committee during his confirmation hearing today that “out-competing China” and countering a “formidable authoritarian adversary” in Beijing would be his focus if confirmed, MARTIN MATISHAK reports.
“That will require a long-term clear-eyed bipartisan strategy underpinned by domestic renewal and solid intelligence,” Burns testified.
ON THE CALENDAR: With Health and Human Services Secretary-designate XAVIER BECERRA’s confirmation hearings over, the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee will hold hearings tomorrow for VIVEK MURTHY, Biden’s surgeon general nominee, and RACHEL LEVINE, his assistant secretary of Health and Human Services nominee.
Levine, who is transgender, has been the subject of transphobic attacks from the right as Pennsylvania’s top health official, but the hearing is expected to remain civil, ALICE MIRANDA OLLSTEIN reports. Republicans may still criticize her on the decision earlier this year to remove her own mother from a personal care home as she was responding to Covid outbreaks.
Murthy, meanwhile, is likely to see sharp questions on the millions of dollars he made advising Carnival Cruise Line and other big corporations and giving paid speeches to trade groups.
ASSIGNING BLAME: Biden is disappointed more of his Cabinet nominees haven’t been confirmed, he said today, but doesn’t blame the Senate. “I blame it on the failure to have a transition that is rational,” he said.
Biden has nine of his Cabinet picks confirmed so far with JENNIFER GRANHOLM, his Energy secretary nominee, set to get a confirmation vote later this week.
SHOT — Controversial Trump-era Postmaster General LOUIS DeJOY told lawmakers at a House Oversight and Reform Committee this morning that he intended to be around “a long time,” NICK NIEDZWIADEK reports. “Get used to me,” he said.
CHASER — Biden this afternoon nominated three people to fill vacancies on the U.S. Postal Service’s Board of Governors, something dozens of House Democrats last week urged him to do “as expeditiously as possible.”
The USPS picks are: ANTON HAJJAR, a former American Postal Workers Union general counsel; AMBER McREYNOLDS, the chief executive of the National Vote at Home Institute; and RON STROMAN, a former deputy postmaster general who led Biden’s Postal Service agency review team during the transition.
If all three are confirmed, Democratic appointees will have a majority of the USPS Board of Governors’ nine-seat panel — potentially giving them the opportunity to get rid of DeJoy.
Meet the woman who will decide the fate of Biden’s minimum wage proposal (The New York Times)
Book claims Anita Dunn said pandemic was “the best thing that ever happened to” Biden (The Guardian)
A look at the butlers, chefs, florists, and others who make the White House tick (The New Yorker)
In her Harvard days, CECILIA ROUSE, Biden’s nominee to lead the Council of Economic Advisers, was heavily involved on campus. She even organized wine-tasting sessions at the residential hall she lived in as a way to educate her fellow classmates, according to The Harvard Crimson.
A former roommate of Rouse’s, AMANDA SANDOVAL, told the university’s student newspaper that Rouse “felt it was a public service of sorts.” She recalled that Rouse simply hoped to show students that great wine didn’t have to be pricey.
We wish you’d been there to steer us towards good wine (and away from the Natty Light) in college, Cecilia!
Health and Human Services Secretary XAVIER BECERRA — who still likes to use poker metaphors in his political remarks —was offered a job as a poker dealer in Vegas as a teenager, according to The Los Angeles Times.