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“Someone always goes down:” Biden’s confirmation calculus

February 20, 2021

Opposition from Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) imperils the nomination of Neera Tanden as President Biden’s budget director but could help two other nominees.

The state of play: Xavier Becerra for HHS and Deb Haaland for Interior have better chances if the confirmation gods get their sacrifice elsewhere.


  • The insiders’ refrain: “Someone always goes down.”

Between the lines: Democrats have been afraid to jinx it by saying it out loud. But they’ve been pleasantly surprised to see so many Biden nominees sail through.

  • Twelve years ago, President Obama saw three nominees for Commerce withdraw before facing a committee.
  • In the past month, Secretary of State Tony Blinken was confirmed 78-22, and Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin ran up the score, 93-2.

What’s next: The HHS and Interior hearings, scheduled for next week, will be proxy battles for two of the biggest ideological fights of the Biden presidency — adding a public option to Obamacare, and curtailing oil and gas extraction on federal lands.

  • The White House orchestrated campaigns for the two nominees, working with outside groups and sympathetic senators.
  • Becerra has met with some 40 senators from both parties; Haaland has met about 35.

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