Go figure. For some reason, the Biden nominees facing the toughest confirmation fights are women of color. And it’s not just Republicans—conservative Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin more or less tanked Neera Tanden’s nomination to head the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), and is publicly hesitating about Rep. Deb Haaland’s nomination for secretary of the interior.
Tanden, who is Indian American, would be the first woman of color to head OMB. Haaland, who is an enrolled citizen of the Laguna Pueblo, would be the first American Indian Cabinet secretary. These are the nominees Manchin has chosen to in the first case oppose and in the second case let it be known he has “remaining questions” and is undecided.
About all that.
Manchin also voted to confirm misogynist Twitter troll Richard Grenell as ambassador to Germany under Donald Trump. He now claims he can’t vote for Tanden because of her mean tweets. A mean Tanden tweet involved things like calling Sen. Susan Collins “the worst” or saying that vampires have “more heart” than Flyin’ Ted Cruz. A Grenell tweet involved comparing Rachel Maddow’s appearance to Justin Bieber and telling her to “take a breath and put on a necklace,” or describing Michelle Obama “sweating on the East Room carpet.”
It’s not just Manchin, of course. One single Republican could step up and Tanden would be confirmed, but the same Republicans who spent four years pretending not to have read Trump’s tweets and voted to confirm Sessions and Grenell and Kavanaugh are suddenly upset about Tanden’s tweets. In fact, Sen. Mitt Romney, who is very troubled about Tanden’s tweets, had Grenell as a top aide on his 2012 campaign.
No one is accusing Haaland of mean tweets. Rather, Republican Sens. John Barrasso and Steve Daines have vowed to hold up her confirmation over her “radical” views like wanting to slow global climate change—she’s said one of her policy goals is to “keep fossil fuels in the ground.” Barrasso and Daines are very upset about that, but of course their insistence on painting Haaland as radical isn’t simply about policy. As former Sens. Mark Udall and Tom Udall wrote in a USA Today op-ed, “Were either of us the nominee to lead the Interior Department, we doubt that anyone would be threatening to hold up the nomination or wage a scorched earth campaign warning about ‘radical’ ideas.”
The Udalls are, of course, white men.
“Rep. Haaland’s nomination is both historic and long overdue,” they continued. “If confirmed, she would be the first Native American Cabinet member. Her record is in line with mainstream conservation priorities. Thus, the exceptional criticism of Rep. Haaland and the threatened holds on her nomination must be motivated by something other than her record.”
Republicans can drag Haaland’s confirmation process out, throwing up roadblocks and additional procedural votes, though ultimately, if every Democrat supports her, they can’t stop it entirely. (That, of course, is where Manchin comes in.)
There’s a pattern here even beyond Haaland and Tanden. Of President Biden’s nominees to be confirmed to date, the closest vote was for Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas, the first Latino and first immigrant in that role. Republicans are also threatening to hold up the nomination of Health and Human Services (HHS) nominee Xavier Becerra, the current California attorney general and a former House member. Becerra would be the first Latino to lead HHS. Republicans, after confirming non-doctor Alex Azar to be HHS secretary under Trump, say that not being a doctor means Becerra isn’t qualified.
The list goes on. Outside right-wing groups are launching attacks on Vanita Gupta’s nomination for associate attorney general. Democrats are concerned that Kristen Clarke, nominated to head the civil rights division of the Department of Justice, will face opposition. Gupta is Indian American. Clarke is Black.
”It’s been incredibly disturbing to see a pattern or a trend emerging where people of color and women seem to be at the bottom of the list in terms of hearings and getting their confirmations finalized,” Janet Murguía of UnidosUS told Politico. “It’s highly offensive to see this foot-dragging going on when we have such an incredible need to put these different leaders in place in these different agencies.”
And it has to be recognized for what it is. Republicans and Manchin alike can claim that race and gender play no role in who they find themselves comfortable with or concerned about, or in who they feel safe opposing. But their actions will tell the tale.