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Biden defends selecting Tanden as budget chief as Republicans vow to block nomination

John T. Bennett
·6-min read
<p>President-elect Biden introduced his economic team on Tuesday.</p> (Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved)

President-elect Biden introduced his economic team on Tuesday.

(Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved)

Amid a wave of fierce Republican opposition, President-elect Joe Biden defended picking Neera Tandem as his budget director by contending her “practical experience” will help the pandemic-torn economy bounce back.

As he formally introduced his economic team, the Dow Jones Industrial Average was up 270 points, a sign Wall Street is bullish on his team of longtime Washington insiders that even his GOP foes say are moderates. During the presidential campaign, Donald Trump contended Mr Biden would load his Cabinet with “socialists” that would wreck the stock market and broader economy.

The incoming president praised the longtime Clinton adviser’s “brilliant policy mind” and what he called her “practical experience across government” even as Republican senators vowed to block her nomination.

“She understands the struggles that millions of Americans are facing” due to the coronavirus pandemic, he said, noting that, if confirmed, she would oversee building his first budget, which he contended would “control the virus” and revive the economy.

“They are a reflection of our values,” Ms Tanden said of federal spending plans. “They touch our lives in profound ways. And, sometimes, they make all the difference.”

The daughter of an Indian-born mother, Ms Tanden said “I’m here today because of my mother’s grit” – but also because of “social programs.”

That comment will only further GOP criticism of the current Center for American Progress president, whom they say is out of the “mainstream” of Americans’ thinking about the size of the federal government and its spending – and the proper role it should play in the economy and on social matters.

Republican senators like John Cornyn, a close ally of Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, say Ms Tanden’s coming nomination for Office of Management and Budget director is doomed.

"I think in light of her combative and insulting comments about many members of the Senate, mainly on our side of the aisle, that it creates, certainly, a problematic path,” he told reporters on Monday, objecting to Ms Tanden’s many tweets criticizing Republican senators, some of which she would need to support her during a floor vote.

Another top Senate Republican, Majority Whip John Thune said: “I’m not disqualifying anybody, but I do think it gets a lot harder obviously if they send someone from their progressive left that [is] kind of out of the mainstream.”

‘Just a start’

Meantime, during his opening remarks, Mr Biden confirmed reports he will seek a sweeping coronavirus relief package after he is sworn in on 20 January.

“Any package passed during the lame duck session is likely to just be a start," he said, referring to any deal congressional leaders might strike with the Trump administration before then.

“The goal is simple: To keep businesses and schools open safety,” the president-elect said, saying of the American people that Washington needs to “ deliver them immediate relief. ”

Other members of his economic team, like his nominee for Treasury secretary, Janet Yellen, talked about tamping down economic inequality and their blue-collar and middle-class backgrounds. They warned Americas’ adversaries of their willingness to impose economic sanctions, and as Heather Boushey, an incoming White House Council of Economic advisers member put it: “uprooting racial barriers" at home.

But much of the focus this week has been on his budget chief pick. To that end, Monday was Neera Tanden day on an otherwise quiet one in Washington. Almost on cue, an email surfaced from 2015 when she criticized Mr Biden.

“The good thing about a Biden run is that he would make Hillary look so much better,” Neera Tanden wrote to then-Clinton campaign manager John Podesta in October 2015. “What a mess today. Thanks for today and last night.”

That email, first reported by Fox News, was sent after Mr Biden said at an event that Ms Clinton should not consider it “naive” to work with Republicans. “It is possible, it is necessary to end this notion that the enemy is the other party,” Mr Biden said at the “Mondale gala” then.

“End this notion that it is naïve to think we can speak well of the other party and cooperation,” he added. “What is naïve is to think it is remotely possible to govern this country unless we can. That is what is naïve.”

The president-elect seems to have gotten over the electronic slights.

It is common for US presidents-elect, and even sitting chiefs executive, to hire and nominate individuals and former rivals who have been critical of them and their policy proposals in the past – especially when they worked on other political campaigns. Donald Trump did just that over and over during his term.

‘Let’s not kid ourselves’

Pursuing a sweeping economic stimulus package as his first legislative item could prove an uphill battle.

If Republicans win either of two Senate runoff elections in Georgia in January, the president-elect likely would seek a smaller stimulus package, according to CNN. What’s more, Democratic Senator Christopher Murphy said on Tuesday that “half” of the Republicans he had just chatted with on the chamber floor want to do “nothing” further on pandemic relief.

The economic team he introduced would be charged with helping craft such a proposal and sell it both the American public and Congress, where it will face skeptical Republicans who suddenly are warning against big spending after four years of just that under Donald Trump.

The team Mr Biden formally unveiled on Tuesday features mostly political and economic centrists.

“They have been centrist so far,” former Trump White House acting chief of staff and budget chief Mick Mulvaney said. “It doesn't surprise me that he's putting centrists at, say, the State Department, the national security advisor position. Janet Yellen's sort of a centrist at Treasury, but there's a lot of positions remaining to be filled.”

There could be trouble ahead for the former vice president, who has lectured other top Democrats – like former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton – for viewing congressional Republicans as enemies. That’s because his party’s progressive wing has a list of demands that likely are DOA in a Senate where the eventual majority party will be far short of the 60 votes currently needed to pass legislation.

“Joe Biden has a lot of progressives that he has to satisfy,” Mr Mulvaney said. “But let's not kid ourselves. Joe Biden has a lot of folks to keep happy.”

The party’s progressive wing, however, has been mostly quiet about Mr Biden’s Cabinet picks. They continue to press hard for him to include their policy proposals in his agenda, but they have not sought to torpedo a specific nominee.

Top House and Senate Democrats have been more vocale, mostly praising Mr Biden’s team of old Washington hands and former Obama administration officials.

“The president-elect’s economic team clearly has the experience, knowledge, and prowess to meet the seriousness of this moment. More than that, they understand the needs of all Americans because they represent all different kinds of Americans. They will get to work not just on rebuilding our economy, but striving to provide greater and more equitable prosperity to future generations,” Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer of New York said on Monday.

“Alongside the president-elect’s deeply experienced national security team, and his soon-to-be-announced health team, his economic team will ensure that the incoming Biden-Harris administration will hit the ground running,” he added – though that very much remains to be seen.

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