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UPDATE 3-U.S. Democrat opposes Biden budget pick Tanden, risking confirmation and complicating agenda

Patricia Zengerle
·3 min read

(Adds details on Democrat agenda, COVID relief bill)

By Patricia Zengerle

WASHINGTON, Feb 19 (Reuters) - U.S. Senator Joe Manchin saidon Friday he opposes President Joe Biden's nomination of NeeraTanden to head the Office of Management and Budget, imperilingher chances of getting the job and introducing a new obstaclefor the Democrats' agenda.

Biden told reporters he did not intend to pull thenomination. "I think we're gonna find the votes to get herconfirmed," Biden said.

Tanden has been criticized by Republicans - and someDemocrats - over past harsh comments on social media, such ascalling Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell "Moscow Mitch"and saying "vampires have more heart than (Senator) Ted Cruz."

Many Democrats scoffed at such concerns, notingnear-unanimous Republican support for former President DonaldTrump, who was accused of inciting a deadly attack on the U.S.Capitol partly via inflammatory comments on Twitter and wasknown for blasting opponents - particularly women - as "nasty"or criminals who should be locked up.

Manchin cited Tanden's "public statements and tweets" in hisstatement. "I believe her overtly partisan statements will havea toxic and detrimental impact on the important workingrelationship between members of Congress and the next directorof the Office of Management and Budget," he said.

His statement drew immediate condemnation, with some criticsnoting that the moderate Democrat - who represents the stronglyRepublican state of West Virginia - had backed some of Trump'scontroversial nominees, including Richard Grenell to beambassador to Germany.

Democrats had questioned Grenell's appointment because ofhis past statements insulting to women politicians on theinternet and during cable television appearances.

Manchin's opposition underscored the influence that themoderate Democrat has over the ability of Biden's Democrats toachieve the party's policy goals, given their narrow control ofthe House and Senate.

His statement came as congressional Democrats look to pass a$1.9 trillion COVID relief bill by the end of next week. Facingstiff Republican opposition, that measure could also hinge onManchin.

If every Senate Democrat had supported Tanden, she couldhave been confirmed without Republican votes since Democratscontrol 50 seats in the chamber and Vice President Kamala Harriscan break a tie.

However, Manchin's opposition means Tanden must be supportedby a least one Republican.

Tanden, who is Indian-American, would be the first woman ofcolor to serve as director of the OMB, which serves asgatekeeper for the $4 trillion federal budget.

Questioned at her confirmation hearings about her tweets,Tanden apologized and said she regretted their tone.

White House spokeswoman Jen Psaki praised Tanden as "anaccomplished policy expert who would be an excellent BudgetDirector." She said the administration would keep working towardher confirmation by engaging with both parties.

If Tanden is not confirmed, it would be a setback in apresidential transition that was already delayed by Trump'srefusal - backed by many of his fellow Republicans - torecognize Biden's victory in the November election even afterrepeated court decisions showed there had been no widespreadfraud.

So far, the handful of Biden nominees to have come beforethe Senate, including Secretary of State Antony Blinken andTreasury Secretary Janet Yellen, have been confirmed bycomfortable margins with bipartisan support.

Biden could also install Tanden as director of OMB by makingher a recess appointment, a temporary measure that could herallow to run the office for nearly two years.(Reporting by Patricia Zengerle; Additional reporting byAlexandra Alper and Trevor Hunnicutt; Editing by Jonathan Oatis,Bill Berkrot and Daniel Wallis)