As Tanden runs into trouble, South Asian group mobilizes support

Vote for Tanden and Vivek Murthy would acknowledge significance for South Asian community.

As Indian American Neera Tanden’s nomination to lead President Joe Biden’s budget office ran into rough weather, a South Asian group came out to mobilize support for her and Vivek Murthy, nominee for surgeon general.

South Asians for Biden, a group that campaigned for Biden during the 2020 presidential election, Monday issued “a guide on how to support Dr. Vivek Murthy & Neera Tanden” for two top jobs in the Biden administration.

“As our South Asian nominees undergo the confirmation process, you can make a difference by contacting your US Senator and others” to ensure their confirmation by the Senate, it said.

The group specifically asked supporters to contact West Virginia Democrat Joe Manchin and three key Republicans — Sens. Susan Collins (Maine), Mitt Romney (Utah) and Rob Portman (Ohio)  — who are joining him in opposing Tanden.

The South Asians for Biden’s National Director Neha Dewan urged senators from both parties that the confirmation of Tanden and Murthy would “acknowledge the significance of their nominations for the broader South Asian community”

“In making their decisions on the nominations of Ms. Tanden and Dr. Murthy, we urge both Republicans and Democrats in the US Senate to not only appreciate their qualifications, but to also acknowledge the significance of their nominations for the broader South Asian community,” she said.

RELATED: Manchin set to derail Neera Tanden’s nomination; could torpedo Vivek Murthy as well (February 21, 2021)

Murthy’s “impeccable credentials, experience, and ethics are precisely all of the qualities we need in our next Surgeon-General, and merit his swift confirmation,” Dewan said.

If confirmed by the Senate, Tanden would be the second Indian American in a US presidential cabinet. The first to make the grade was Nikki Haley, who was made US ambassador to UN by then President Donald Trump with cabinet rank.

The powerful Office of Management and Budget (OMB) is tasked with framing the $5 trillion US budget that determines the allocations for various departments and vetting policy and appointments.

With three key Republicans joining Manchin, Senate confirmation of Tanden “appeared increasingly improbable” the Hill said noting it would seemingly leave her at least one vote short for a confirmation.

Given the Manchin defection, Biden would need one Republican in the 50-50 Senate to vote in favor of Tanden’s confirmation. But on Monday, three of the most likely possible votes said they would not back her, citing inflammatory tweets.

“While the White House has publicly backed Tanden, officials are already considering backup plans,” the Hill said.

“The president nominated her because he believed she’d be a stellar OMB director,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki said at a press briefing.

RELATED: List of Indian Americans in the Biden administration (January 2, 2021)

“This is a process — confirmations, getting individuals confirmed is. She has two committee votes this week, and we’re working toward that and we’ll continue to work in supporting her nomination.”

Asked if the White House still believes Tanden has a path to 50 votes, where Vice President Harris would serve as a tie-breaker, Psaki said “we do” but declined to elaborate.

The Hill also cited a  Democratic source as saying they expected Tanden to ultimately withdraw and be appointed to a position within the administration that does not require Senate confirmation.

Meanwhile members of the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus sent a letter to senators on Monday describing Tanden as “exceptionally qualified.”

The letter noted the historical significance of Tanden’s nomination, given that she would be the first Asian American and woman of color to lead OMB.

“Ms. Tanden is widely recognized as an expert in domestic, economic, and foreign policy,” the letter states.

“Not only is she a leading architect of bold policies designed to support working families, foster broad-based economic growth, and curb rampant inequality, but she is also a pragmatic policy maker who understands the importance of working across the aisle to find common ground on initiatives that will move our nation forward.”

Emboldened by the weakening of support for Tanden, a subtle campaign has also been started in some circles against Murthy.

The Washington Post reported on Saturday that Murthy received millions of dollars from corporations such as Netflix, AirBnB, and Carnival Corporations in consulting fees in the past year.

Murthy, according to the report, earned an estimated $2.6 million for coronavirus-related consultations fees and various speaking engagements raising concerns about his credibility as a spokesperson on the pandemic response.

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