Here’s the state of the American republic in 2021: People who may one day be called to vote on whether to plunge the United States into war want the public to believe they are sinking one of President Biden’s nominations because she tweeted mean things.
To hear many senators say it, Neera Tanden’s confirmation as director of the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) now hangs by a thread because, as a hyper-partisan Democrat leading a center-left think tank, she dubbed Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) “the worst,” likened Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) to Harry Potter villain Lord Voldemort, or had this to say about Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas):
Taken at face value, senators invested with enormous power are calling the waahhhmbulance and preparing to smother Tanden’s nomination because their feelings are hurt. Republicans, who spent four years ducking and dodging to avoid having to comment on President Donald Trump’s incendiary tweets, don’t even need to invoke this reason.
For them, an early Biden confirmation defeat would be a morale booster.
“Republicans are unhappy about the result of last year’s election, but we’ve got to stand up and fight and find some backbone,” Cruz argued on the Hugh Hewitt Show this week in response to the host pressing him to support Tanden. “And at least so far, that hasn’t happened.”
Sen. Joe Manchin III (D-W.Va.) cited Tanden’s “public statements and tweets” aimed at McConnell and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) in his bombshell announcement Friday that he would not support her nomination. In the 50-50 Senate, Manchin’s opposition immediately cast a cloud over Tanden’s fate, which only got darker as other senators the White House had hoped would support her said they would not.
“I believe her overtly partisan statements will have a toxic and detrimental impact on the important working relationship between members of Congress” and the leader of OMB, Manchin said on Feb. 19.
“Congress has to be able to trust the OMB director to make countless decisions in an impartial manner, carrying out the letter of the law and congressional intent,” Collins said a few days later. “Neera Tanden has neither the experience nor the temperament to lead this critical agency.”
A spokesperson for Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah) — one of the few GOP lawmakers to criticize Trump publicly — explained his opposition by saying “he believes it’s hard to return to comity and respect with a nominee who has issued a thousand mean tweets.”
If it all seems … small ... to tank a nomination over social media savagery, considering that far more important things have been done for far pettier reasons.
Newt Gingrich, as House speaker, explained his intransigence during the 1995 government shutdown as payback for how he felt when President Bill Clinton insulted him on an Air Force One round-trip to Israel.
"This is petty … but I think it’s human," he told reporters. "You land at Andrews [Air Force Base] and you've been on the plane for 25 hours and nobody has talked to you and they ask you to get off the plane by the back ramp. ... You just wonder, where is their sense of manners? Where is their sense of courtesy?"
So whatever Tanden’s treatment is, it would not be breaking new ground in the “petty” department.
Some observers have pointed out that Tanden wasn’t just Twitter toxic but insulted the very people whose votes she now needs to get confirmed.
But each of these lawmakers has spent a long time in politics, where it’s customary to warn voters the other party — and even a particular opposing candidate — is a crook bent on the destruction of the American way of life. (One counter I have heard to this is that senators care that the attacks came from a staffer, rather than one of their own).
Some of my colleagues have pointed out that Manchin had no problem voting to confirm other tantrum-y tweeters, like former ambassador to Germany Ric Grenell, who once said liberal MSNBC host Rachel Maddow looked like Justin Bieber and should “take a breath and put on a necklace.” He also mocked Gingrich’s weight and mused about whether Callista Gingrich’s “hair snaps on.”
Calling Hillary Clinton the “antichrist” in 2014 didn’t cost Ryan Zinke Manchin’s vote to confirm him as interior secretary in 2017.
And the Senate yesterday confirmed Jennifer Granholm as energy secretary in a 64-35 vote (Collins, Manchin, and Romney all supported her) despite her caustic political comments in the past. In July 2016, she delivered what one account described as a Dr. “Seussian rant” attacking Republicans and Trump, whom she called “a scammer, a chisler … a swindler in chief.”
“Building huge walls are part of his plans,” she said. “It must all be related to the size of his hands.”
Given how protective Republicans have been of Trump, even after his presidency, Granholm’s confirmation would seem to undermine the “mean tweets” explanation about Tanden.
Other theories have zipped around the Internet. Some have noted that, in August 2016, Tanden tweeted about Manchin’s daughter, who pulled in $19 million in salary and perks after raising the price of the EpiPen.
And my colleague Annie Linskey has looked at how “[m]any of the president’s Black, Latino, Asian and Native American nominees are encountering more political turbulence than their White counterparts.”
“Activists say the concerns raised over Tanden are part of a broader pattern imperiling many of Biden’s nominees of color, making their confirmation process rougher and meaner than in previous years and when compared with their White counterparts.”
At the White House, officials roll their eyes at Republican senators who oppose Tanden based on her inflammatory social media comments after going from “I didn’t see the tweet” to avoid discussing Trump's Twitter tantrums, to “I didn’t see the election” to avoid acknowledging Biden’s victory, to, in at least one notable instance, “I didn’t see the Jan. 6 insurrection” to deny Trump voters stormed the Capitol Jan. 6.
At least one canny veteran observer of inside-the-Beltway politics offered another possibility. Josh Holmes, longtime adviser to McConnell, said this on the day Tanden’s nomination was announced:
That’s not to mean that the White House picked Tanden to give senators like Manchin and Collins the opportunity to vote against a Biden pick, perhaps making it easier to line up behind other administration priorities.
Instead, Holmes said, it has to do with advancing someone with her record when the Senate is 50-50.
“I’ve never seen a nominee in a divided Senate as intentionally provocative as Neera Tanden,” Holmes told me. “The tweets are a symptom of the problem not the actual issue with her nomination.”
What’s happening now
The House is set to pass Biden’s $1.9 trillion relief package today – including the minimum wage provision. The bill includes $1,400 stimulus checks to individuals, an increased child tax credit, expanded unemployment insurance and hundreds of billions of dollars for state and local governments, schools and vaccinations. Though the Senate’s parliamentarian ruled that the provision that would gradually raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour couldn’t remain in the chamber’s version of the bill as written, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said the House would keep the measure in their version of the bill, John Wagner and Erica Werner report.
The diplomatic stage is set for the release of an unclassified U.S. report into the 2018 murder of Jamal Khashoggi. The intelligence document is expected to implicate Saudi King Salman’s son, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, in the grisly October 2018 death of the Saudi journalist and Washington Post contributor. The report could deliver the latest blow to U.S.-Saudi relations. Biden has already criticized the Saudi human rights record, canceled arms sales to the kingdom, and formally ended American military support for Riyadh’s war effort in Yemen. That’s on top of planning a U.S. return to the Iran nuclear deal, which Saudi Arabia opposed. It is unclear how detailed, or grisly, the report will be. A classified CIA assessment concluded MBS, as he is often known, had signed off on the plot.
The Biden administration remains committed to raising the minimum wage, though it didn't say how. White House National Economic Council Director Brian Deese told MSNBC a higher wage "is the right thing to do. We're going to consult with our congressional allies, congressional leaders today to talk about a path forward about how we can make progress urgently on what is an urgent issue,” he said. Deese told CNBC Vice President Harris will not intervene to try to overrule the parliamentarian’s decision.
Republican lawmakers, on opposite sides of the party’s spectrum, unveiled two minimum wage bills. “In keeping with the party’s deep division between its dominant Trumpist faction and its more traditionalist party elites, the twin responses seem aimed at appealing on one hand to its corporate-friendly allies and on the other hand to its populist rightwing base. Both have an anti-immigrant element,” the Guardian’s Lauren Aratani reports. “Senators Mitt Romney and Tom Cotton unveiled on Tuesday a proposal for a $10 federal minimum wage, to be implemented over the course of four years with a slower, phased approach for small businesses. Their bill also requires employers to use the federal government’s E-Verify program to ensure they are not hiring undocumented workers.”
“Meanwhile, the far-right Republican senator Josh Hawley of Missouri released his alternative to an increase in the minimum wage: a tax credit for those who make less than $16.50 an hour. The credit would be applied based on the number of hours a person worked and would be available only to those with an American social security number, barring non-US citizens and undocumented workers. A full-time worker could get up to $4,680 in tax credits a year, according to the bill.”
The Johnson & Johnson’s coronavirus vaccine is heading to the FDA’s panel of outside advisers today, amid strong indications the committee will endorse the shot before the end of the day. (Laurie McGinley and Carolyn Johnson)
Past marijuana use won’t automatically disqualify someone from serving on Biden’s White House staff, NBC News reports. “The White House will now, on a case-by-case basis, waive a requirement that potential appointees in the Executive Office of the President be eligible for a ‘Top Secret’ clearance. Officials said a waiver would only be granted to those who have used marijuana on a ‘limited’ basis and who are in positions that don’t ultimately require a security clearance.”
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Lunchtime reads from The Post
- “Andrew Cuomo, once touted as the ‘gold standard,’ finds his brand tarnished by multiple crises,” by Michael Scherer and Josh Dawsey: “For those steeped in New York politics, little is surprising about the recent turn of events, save perhaps how many people have publicly turned against the governor. The rough edges Cuomo once sold as an asset — ‘My natural instinct is to be aggressive,’ he wrote in his last book — are now emerging as a liability.”
- “Unprecedented numbers of students have disappeared during the pandemic. Schools are working harder than ever to find them,” by Moriah Balingit: “Even before the pandemic, districts had to track down children who had stopped showing up to school or had failed to appear for a new school year. They have strong incentives to find them; school funding is often allocated on a per-pupil basis. … But this year, students have disappeared from classes in unprecedented numbers, forcing districts to rethink their approach to those who stop showing up. Many districts, cognizant of the damage that lost school time can cause, have employed extraordinary efforts to track down students to ensure that they are safe and have devices to learn. Others, like Detroit and Miami, have kept students on rosters even after they failed to show for an entire month.”
- “The joy of vax: The people giving the shots are seeing hope, and it’s contagious,” by Maura Judkis: “In some clinics, so many nurses have volunteered for vaccine duty that they can’t accommodate them all. Many of those same health-care workers spent last year sticking swabs up the noses of people who thought they might have the coronavirus. The work was risky. The patients were scared. There was never relief, just limbo. The arrival of The Shot has transformed the grim pop-up clinics of the pandemic into gratitude factories.”
… and beyond
- “The quiet winner of the Texas energy crisis,” by the American Prospect’s David Dayen: “Macquarie, an Australian investment bank, is poised to profit heavily off Texas’s briefly surging energy prices during the snowstorm. The Biden infrastructure program could be its next conquest.”
- “The coronavirus is plotting a comeback. Here’s our chance to stop it for good,” by the New York Times’s Apoorva Mandavilli: “Covid-19 deaths will most likely never rise quite as precipitously as in the past, and the worst may be behind us. But if Americans let down their guard too soon — many states are already lifting restrictions — and if the variants spread in the United States as they have elsewhere, another spike in cases may well arrive in the coming weeks.”
The first 100 days
The Bidens will travel to Houston today to survey the damage left behind by deadly winter storms.
- In his first trip to Texas as president, Biden will visit the Harris County Emergency Operations Center and the Houston Food Bank. He will also deliver remarks at NRG Stadium, which has been turned into a mass coronavirus vaccination facility, per White House guidance.
- Biden will be joined by Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R) and Texas Sen. John Cornyn (R). Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), will not participate — he is instead scheduled to speak about “cancel culture” at today's Conservative Political Action Conference. Cornyn will not travel on Air Force One, White House press secretary Jen Psaki said, because of space limitations.
- Only 100 of Texas’s 254 counties have been declared disaster areas, and experts in the state expect Abbott to ask Biden to add more, per KHOU11. If so, more homeowners will be able to apply for FEMA money for repairs, small-business aid and delays in filing taxes.
Some Democrats want to fire the Senate parliamentarian after she ruled the $15 minimum wage hike can’t go in the relief bill.
- “Abolish the filibuster. Replace the parliamentarian,” Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) said in a tweet last night after Senate parliamentarian Elizabeth MacDonough ruled. “What’s a Democratic majority if we can’t pass our priority bills? This is unacceptable.”
- The call to remove MacDonough may sound a little extreme, something similar has happened before, Katie Shepherd reports. Twenty years ago, faced with a similar hurdle in an equally divided Senate for an ambitious tax-cutting plan, Republicans fired the parliamentarian standing in their way. Then-Senate Parliamentarian Robert Dove ruled that most of the tax cuts pushed by Republicans, as well as a measure creating a $5 billion fund for natural disaster damage, could not be considered. He was promptly dismissed.
- The Biden administration, however, has shown little will to challenge MacDonough, saying it was “disappointed” but would move forward without the wage hike in the package.
Officials believe the U.S. strike in Syria killed a number of alleged Iranian-linked fighters.
- The Biden administration conducted the strike Thursday night, signaling its intent to use targeted military action to push back against violence tied to Tehran, Missy Ryan, Anne Gearan and Alex Horton report.
- An official casualty number hasn’t been announced. While the aide of a senior commander in Kataib Hezbollah told The Post one of its soldiers was killed in the attack, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, citing unnamed sources, said at least 22 were killed and many others were wounded.
- The airstrike was the first military action undertaken by the Biden administration. It was ordered in retaliation for rocket attacks on U.S. targets in Iraq.
Other Biden nominations are moving forward – slowly.
- Sen John Neely Kennedy (R-La.) apologized for calling Rep. Deb Haaland (D-N.M.), the nominee to lead the Interior Department, a “whack job.” Kennedy told Politico he was searching for another word for “extremist” before calling her “a neo-socialist, left-of-Lenin whack job.” He should’ve gone with “extremist,” he said, because it “is more neutral.”
- Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.) accused Xavier Becerra, the health secretary nominee, of suing anti-abortion rights groups, including one led by Catholic nuns, as California attorney general. Becerra did not, our fact checker Salvador Rizzo points out. He instead sued Trump's administration over a policy that exempting some employers from providing contraceptive coverage under the Affordable Care Act.
- Katherine Tai, the nominee to become the chief U.S. trade negotiator, said during a Senate hearing yesterday that U.S. policies must be rethought to safeguard the critical supply lines feeding American factories and to regain the support of “regular people," David Lynch reports.
The future of the GOP
It is CPAC weekend, and conservatives are preparing for Trump’s headlining speech on Sunday.
The Post’s David Weigel is in Orlando covering the confab. Here's what he tells us from on the ground in Florida, where Biden isn't a big theme: "I've been covering CPAC on and off — mostly on — since 2006, and this year's unlike any of the years when Barack Obama was in the White House,” Weigel, author of fellow Post newsletter The Trailer, tells us. “MAGA gear is all over the place, attendees have dusted off their Trump merchandise, and the very first presentation of the day focused on myths of 2020 election fraud. It's very much a Trump and MAGA convention, which isn't a surprise. It's just a departure from other ‘wilderness’ years, when potential presidential candidates pile in to audition before the base.” Another big theme so far, Dave added, is opposing coronavirus lockdowns. The crowd boos whenever California is mentioned.
This is what Dave is watching this weekend:
- "There are, perhaps, eight non-Trump Republicans with presidential ambitions here: Gov. Ron DeSantis of Florida, Gov. Kristi Noem of South Dakota, former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, and Sens. Tom Cotton, Josh Hawley, [Cruz], Marco Rubio, and Rick Scott. I've got my eyes on that, but the bigger story is the conservative movement building itself up around Trump, and around opposition to liberal ‘cancel culture.’ There will be seven main-stage panels, and at least one breakout session, about election law and whether 2020 was stolen. (It wasn't.) But there's also an emphasis on economic conflict with China, with the transgender rights movement, and with ‘big tech’ censorship.”
- "I'm curious to see what's emphasized, what themes are repeated, and what's new. And I'm curious to see how much people care about Joe Biden at all. Walking around the exhibit hall yesterday, merch guys told me they can't give away anti-Biden merch; the one Biden-specific panel is titled ‘Who's the boss, applesauce,’ which suggests it'll be about how he's not controlling his party, and conservatives must identify who is."
The former president is moving to solidify his hold over the party. The latest? A new super PAC.
- Trump told political advisers that his longtime ally Corey Lewandowski will run a yet-to-be-formed super PAC, Politico reports. The decision was made in a multi-hour meeting at Mar-a-Lago yesterday, which featured Donald Trump Jr., two former campaign managers — Bill Stepien and Brad Parscale — and senior adviser Jason Miller.
- Miller said Trump will announce more details about this political operation “in the coming weeks.”
- The president has tapped some advisers — including Stepien and former deputy campaign manager Justin Clark — to oversee decisions about which candidates he should endorse in the 2022 cycle.
A video of CPAC participants rolling around a golden figure of Trump made its rounds on Twitter this morning. Some drew comparisons between the figure and the Biblical golden calf Israelites made in the book of Exodus. Bill Kristol, who was among those who first drew the comparison, took it back, saying it was rude to the calf:
Quote of the day
“When he was indicted and they found out he was going to be arrested and they actually found out he’d be charged with real felonies and he’d see the inside of a jail cell, there was a sense of jubilance. To learn that he [died by suicide], it’s just a sense of hopelessness and frustration and, frankly, rage,” said John Manly, the attorney of U.S. gymnasts who accused former Olympic coach John Geddert of sexual assault, about the news that Geddert committed suicide after being charged with sexual assault and human trafficking.
Hot on the left
A pickup truck bearing the logo of a far-right militia group parked in front of the Capitol on Jan. 6 belongs to the husband of Rep. Mary Miller (R-Ill.), who approvingly quoted Hitler a day before the attack. In an email to the Daily Beast, Chris Miller, a member of the Illinois House of Representatives, said the vehicle with a “Three Percenter” militia sticker is his and pleaded ignorance about the meaning of the decal. “Army friend gave me decal. Thought it was a cool decal. Took it off because of negative pub,” Chris Miller wrote. Mary Miller, the day before the attack, gained notoriety for her speech at a “Moms for America” rally in front of the Capitol, in which she said, “Hitler was right on one thing: whoever has the youth has the future.” Three Percenters believe only a small number of “patriots” protect Americans from the tyranny of big government.
Hot on the right
McConnell says he would “absolutely” back Trump if he wins 2024 nomination. In an interview with Fox News’s Bret Baier, McConnell signaled he wouldn’t let the growing rift between him and Trump get in the way of Republicans reclaiming the White House. When Baier pressed McConnell on the prospects of Trump running in 2024, the Senate minority leader pointed out Trump wouldn’t be the only one in the race. “There’s a lot to happen between now and ’24,” he said. “I’ve got at least four members, I think, that are planning on running for president, plus governors and others. There is no incumbent. Should be a wide-open race and fun for you all to cover.”
Libya at the mercy of foreign powers, visualized
This week in Washington
Biden will spend the day in Texas, surveying the winter storm relief efforts.
CPAC will continue through the weekend, ending with Trump’s speech Sunday at 3:40 p.m.
Donald Trump Jr. will speak today at 3:25 p.m. about “reigniting the spirit of the American dream."
Marco Rubio (Fla.) will kick off things Saturday morning. The day’s notable speakers include former secretary of state Mike Pompeo, who will talk about the Bill of Rights at 1:35 p.m., and South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem, who will speak at 3:50 p.m.
Stephen Colbert poked fun at those infuriated that Mr. Potato Head will drop the “Mr.”:
ICYMI: Toymaker Hasbro announced it would drop the “Mr.” in order to be more inclusive and so all could feel “welcome in the Potato Head world," the AP reports. The news infuriated some conservatives who said the company went too far and plans to make the iconic potato gender neutral were pomme de terrible. Later, though, the company clarified that, while the brand is changing, Mr. and Mrs. Potato Head will still live on and be sold in stores.