Two women of color nominated by President Joe Biden are facing Senate opposition to their nominations — and the leaders of some groups supporting the women are crying foul, citing disparate pushback.
Two committees canceled hearings on Wednesday to give lawmakers more time to consider Neera Tanden’s nomination to head the Office of Management and Budget. Separately, Rep. Deb Haaland faced skepticism from the Democratic committee chair ahead of its hearing related to her nomination to lead the Interior Department.
The postponements of Tanden’s hearings were seen as a sign that her confirmation could be in danger. If confirmed, Tanden would be the first woman of color and first South Asian American to serve as director of the OMB, a sprawling office that produces the president’s budget and supervises other executive branch agencies.
Sen. Joe Manchin, a conservative-leaning Democrat from West Virginia, said last week that he would not support Tanden’s confirmation, citing critical tweets she posted about various members of Congress, which she subsequently deleted and apologized for. Manchin’s “no” vote alone could derail Tanden’s confirmation in the evenly split Senate unless she is able to pick up Republican support. Manchin previously voted to confirm some of former President Donald Trump’s nominees, including Richard Grenell as ambassador to Germany, though Grenell likewise had a history of inflammatory tweets about prominent Democrats.
Manchin, who heads the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources, had also said he was undecided about whether he would vote to confirm Haaland to head the Interior Department ahead of a second day of committee hearings. After Wednesday’s hearing concluded, Manchin announced he would vote to confirm Haaland despite some policy differences as both parties needed to be “committed to a new era of bipartisanship.”
Haaland would be the first Native American to serve in a Cabinet-level position, heading the agency that oversees federal land and natural resources, including the administration of most programs related to more than 550 federally recognized tribes. She hails from the environmentalist wing of the Democratic Party but said repeatedly during her committee confirmation hearings that if confirmed she would implement Biden’s agenda, not her own. Manchin previously voted to confirm Trump’s pick for Interior, Ryan Zinke.
Of the nine Biden nominees who have been confirmed so far, just three were women and the majority were White. Biden nominated Vanita Gupta to be associate attorney general; she would be the first woman of color to serve in the role. Kristen Clarke is Biden’s pick to lead the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division and would be the first Black woman to hold the post. They are among the women of color nominated to posts who have not yet faced confirmation votes.
Aimee Allison, founder of She the People, which supports women of color in politics, said the group will not let Democratic senators forget that women of color were a key constituency that sent Biden to the White House, helped the party to maintain its House majority and allowed Democrats to pick up seats in the Senate. She said it was inappropriate for Manchin to act as the “gatekeeper” to decide whether the first Native American woman would serve in the Cabinet.
“No one should be standing in the way of women of color finally having an opportunity. We need the Democrats who haven’t said anything to stand up,” Allison said.
Manchin’s office did not respond to a request to comment on Tanden or Biden’s nominations more generally.
Tina Tchen with Time’s Up said that the blowback to Tanden’s tweets — she referred to Sen. Susan Collins as “the worst,” said vampires had more heart than Sen. Ted Cruz and likened Sen. Mitch McConnell to the Harry Potter villain Voldemort (all are Republicans, though she has also criticized Democrats) — revealed a disconnect. Manchin and Republican senators raising concerns now did not do so for Grenell, who often made remarks on Twitter that were seen as sexist, Tanden’s supporters have noted.
“It very much smacks of, ‘Women are supposed to sit down and be quiet.’ That’s what this feels like. They are two women well qualified to serve the president,” said Tchen, the chief executive of Time’s Up, which works to combat gender-based discrimination.
“All of a sudden that disqualifies her from becoming the director of the Office of Management and Budget for the president? It makes no sense. The only message you can take from that is that women are expected to be quiet. And that’s your pathway to success, not to be passionate about what you believe in, not being an advocate,” Tchen added.
Reps. Alexandria Ocasio Cortez and Grace Meng, both Democrats from New York, are among those who have suggested that a discomfort with women of color could be contributing to the reluctance to confirm them to positions of power.
Biden told reporters Tuesday that he still believed there was a “good shot” that Tanden would be confirmed and declined to discuss alternate plans. White House press secretary Jen Psaki noted that Tanden has had at least 44 meetings with senators from both parties, including speaking to 15 senators between Friday and Tuesday.
Biden’s nominations are not the first time his White House and Manchin, who is expected to be a critical Democratic swing vote, have not seen eye to eye. Manchin previously scolded the White House for not informing him in advance that Vice President Kamala Harris, the first woman of color to serve in the role, would be doing an interview with a West Virginia television station about COVID-19 response. Manchin called it a “mistake” but said no apology from the White House was necessary.
Errin Haines contributed to this report.