Developments in back-to-back days cast doubts over Tanden and Murthy, who would be highest-ranking Indian Americans in the Biden administration, if confirmed.
Two days after the nomination of Neera Tanden as the director of the Office of Management and Budget was thrown into doubt, there is now additional scrutiny on the confirmation of another Indian American tapped by President Joe Biden to be part of his administration.
The Washington Post reported on Saturday that surgeon general nominee Vivek Murthy received millions of dollars from corporations such as Netflix, AirBnB, and Carnival Corporations in consulting fees in the past year.
According to the report, Murthy earned an estimated $2.6 million for coronavirus-related consultations fees and various speaking engagements. With concerns that may now arise regarding his credibility as a spokesperson on the pandemic response, Murthy’s confirmation vote, which is scheduled for this Thursday, could be in trouble.
If confirmed, Tanden and Murthy would be the two highest-ranking Indian Americans in the Biden administration. But the developments in back-to-back days now cast doubts over their confirmation. So far, the White House has said it is backing both the two nominees and is confident about getting them confirmed.
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The first bombshell came on Friday, when Sen. Joe Manchin, a conservative Democrat from West Virginia, announced that he would vote against Tanden citing her past tweets about a number of GOP senators.
“I believe her overtly partisan statements will have a toxic and detrimental impact on the important working relationship between members of Congress and the next director of the Office of Management and Budget,” the West Virginia senator said. “For this reason, I cannot support her nomination.”
The president said he has no plans to withdraw the nomination of Tanden, who runs the liberal think tank Center for American Progress.
“I think we’re going to find the votes to get her confirmed,” Biden said in response to Manchin’s comments on Saturday. While the president has yet to make an official comment in the case of Murthy, White House officials defended the nomination, according to the Washington Post report.
However, the path is yet to be clear for either nominee, despite backing from the administration. In Murthy’s case, he had faced stiff resistance from a number of Republicans in the Senate when he was nominated by President Obama for surgeon general in 2014 because of staunch anti-gun stance.
At the time, the Indian American community had lobbied heavily to get the UK-born, Yale-educated physician confirmed.
Interestingly, Manchin had voted against Murthy in 2014, accusing him of “political activism.”
READ: Neera Tanden, who lives and breathes politics and policy (December 26, 2020)
“After meeting with Dr. Murthy, I don’t question his medical qualifications; I just question whether the public will believe that he can separate his political beliefs from his public health views,” Manchin said in 2014. “I am wary that his past comments and political involvement will have an impact on his leadership capabilities and effectiveness.”
For now, the senator has not announced his decision on Murthy yet.
The Senate is evenly split between Democrats and Republicans and Vice President Kamala Harris holds the decisive vote. It makes Manchin’s vote crucial to the confirmation of both Tanden and Muthry.
In the case of Tanden, it appears the senator will derail her nomination, unless the White House manages to convince at least one of a handful of moderate, or retiring GOP senators, such as Mitt Romney of Utah, Susan Collins of Maine and Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania.
While many of her tweets have since been deleted, Tanden has been widely criticized for her “Twitter fingers.” She was even compared to former President Donald Trump because of her Twitter attacks on many Republican senators, who will now be deciding on her confirmation.
She called Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell “Moscow Mitch” and “Voldemort.”
RELATED: Indian American Vivek Murthy returns as Biden’s surgeon general (December 7, 2020)
When Biden made the announcement picking her as the OMB chief, Republicans still had the Senate majority and many had pointed out that Tanden would have a tough time getting the confirmation.
In fact, at the time, a former chief of staff and campaign manager to McConnell, had described the nomination as “the sacrifice to the confirmation gods.” https://twitter.com/HolmesJosh/status/1333161733171634176
“Her combative and insulting comments about many members of the Senate … [create] a problematic path,” Sen. John Cornyn of Texas said in November.
But after Democrats won the two Georgia senate seats in run-off on January 5, most expected Tanden’s confirmation to sail smoothly, despite her uneasy relationship with former Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders. (She once claimed that “Russia did a lot more to help Bernie than the DNC’s random internal emails did to help Hillary.”)
At her confirmation hearing, Tanden repeatedly apologized for her mean tweets. Also, her Twitter feed has been devoid of any combativeness lately.
For Murthy, his consulting gigs may push him back into a familiar territory. His initial confirmation process for surgeon general during the Obama administration was delayed following a suggestion he made in a tweet that gun violence should be treated as a public health issue instead of a criminal matter.
This time around his chances of nomination are threatened by a potential conflict of interest.
Jeff Hauser, who leads the Revolving Door Project a the Center for Economic and Policy Research, a progressive think tank, told the Washington Post, “We didn’t have a full window into how enmeshed he was in the selling-advice process.”
“There are large questions in the minds of the public about the health and safety risks that might exist in areas like the cruise industry, and we want the surgeon general to give people completely impartial advice,” he said.
‘How could Murthy give impartial advice to Americans on whether it’s safe to go on a cruise or rent an AirBnB?’ are just a few of the questions that are now being raised as a result of the news.
With the most financial entanglements of any surgeon general pick in recent history, as reported by the Post, questions regarding Murthy’s credibility are seriously being raised.
For now, it appears a single senator could deprive the Indian American community of two high-profile administration positions.