Hanging by a thread: Grassley a no on Tanden, Murkowski looks doubtful

Last night it seemed absurd that Chuck Grassley, of all people, might ride to Tanden’s rescue when the likes of Joe Manchin had already delivered a thumbs down. This morning we got confirmation: It was absurd.

That’s good news for righties who are hoping to see Tanden go down in flames, as it means she needs to go two for two on the remaining centrist undecideds, Kyrsten Sinema and Lisa Murkowski. Sinema’s keeping her cards close to the vest today, which doesn’t bode well for Tanden since it probably means she’s a no and doesn’t want to embarrass Biden by saying so before he withdraws the nomination. If so, then Murkowski doesn’t matter. But if Team Joe can twist Sinema’s arm and get her to yes, then it all comes down to the senator from Alaska.

We’re still waiting on her decision but I’m treating this as another poor sign for Tanden:

A private meeting with Schumer is what I’d expect her to do if she had decided to vote no and, like Sinema, wanted to give Biden the chance to dump Tanden before making her intentions plain. If Murkowski were a yes, she’d just say so, right? I think Neera’s circling the drain.

Although … there’s always a chance that Murkowski was talking to Schumer to swing some sort of deal in exchange for her vote. Hmmmm:

Again, there’s nothing to talk about if Sinema is a no, as that would mean it’s 49/51 against confirmation even with Murkowski joining the Democrats. Murky has no leverage unless Manchin is the only Democratic defector. So maybe Sinema is still in play?

The White House’s allies are doing everything they can to put pressure on Senate centrists. Maybe implying that Sinema’s a racist if she votes no is enough to get her to flip:

President Joe Biden’s aides are urging Asian American groups to mount a last-minute campaign to try to rescue his budget chief nominee, Neera Tanden, as her prospects for Senate confirmation dwindle…

“It is incredibly frustrating to watch because we are talking about individuals who are preeminently qualified, but also coming from communities that have been screaming at the top of their lungs to be visible and valued by this country,” said Gregg Orton, national director of the National Council of Asian Pacific Americans…

“She is being held to a much higher standard, even though nobody disputes her background and qualifications to be OMB director,” said Shekar Narasimhan, AAPI Victory Fund chair. “It’s becoming apparent this higher standard applies primarily to nominees of color, and it particularly hurts with historic nominations like Neera’s.”

Having fingers pointed publicly over prejudice is convenient for the White House because it obscures the grumbling going on behind the scenes about chief of staff Ron Klain. Klain is an old friend and colleague of Tanden’s and reportedly was her strongest advocate during the nomination process. Presumably the only reason Team Joe is still dug in and trying to flip Murkowski instead of cutting Tanden loose is Klain insisting that they should fight on. “This was Ron, Ron, Ron, Ron,” said a senior Democratic official to WaPo. “Ron is doing a great job, but this was not his best moment.” Klain obviously underestimated Manchin’s willingness to vote with the party on Tanden and seems to have overestimated his ability to flip a centrist Republican if need be. Not only that, he declined to let Budget Chairman Bernie Sanders know in advance that Tanden would be nominated for OMB, a curious oversight given the antagonism Tanden had expressed towards Sanders and his fans on Twitter.

The process has been so hamfisted in her case, in fact, that some Dems have taken to theorizing that Klain was playing a game of eight-dimensional chess by nominating her. It’s unclear what checkmate in that game is supposed to look like, but it’s a testament to Klain’s reputation on his own side — and Tanden’s weakness as a nominee — that his own allies can only explain her nomination in terms of “There must be a hidden agenda here because Ron’s too smart to do something this dumb.”

The best I can do to retcon an eight-dimensional-chess theory to account for Tanden is that she’s a sacrificial lamb to make it easier for centrists to vote for Xavier Becerra at HHS. Partisanship nowadays being what it is, the GOP has to try to sink at least one Biden nominee. Well, that’s Tanden, thanks to her tweets. Once she gets nuked, Manchin, Sinema, Collins, Murkowski, and Romney might feel more comfortable supporting the more consequential — and radical — candidate to lead the pandemic response. Ben Sasse is worried about it too:

“Ron Klain and Chuck Schumer know that Xavier Becerra is a wolf who can’t be dressed in sheep’s clothing, so they’re using Neera Tanden as a decoy,” Sasse tells National Review in an email. “While the beltway talks endlessly about which senators got mean tweets from a lefty activist, a wannabe tyrant with a nasty record of attacking the First Amendment is going to quietly become the leader of the federal government’s largest agency. Becerra has shown nothing but contempt for free speech and religious liberty — he’s a hell of a lot more dangerous than Tanden.”

Quite so. I hope a win on Tanden doesn’t lead the Senate into a loss on Becerra.

Here’s Jen Psaki earlier today on “The View” insisting that the fight for Tanden continues. At least until Murkowski shows her cards, that is.