At long last it appears Merrick Garland is on the glide path to confirmation. After being denied so much as a hearing when he was a Supreme Court nominee under a GOP-dominated Senate, attorney general nominee Garland is being met with praise from both sides of the aisle in the divided body.
President Joe Biden has chosen in Garland someone equal to the weighty task of rebuilding a demoralized Justice Department and reviving a moribund civil rights division. A judge and former federal prosecutor, Garland "brings character, commitment and dedication to whatever he does," said one witness. He will need all those skills to start on his most immediate task: investigating the Jan. 6 invasion of the Capitol and its attempt to interfere with the peaceful transfer of power. It was Garland who supervised the investigation and prosecution of the nation's most notable episode of domestic terrorism, the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing that killed 168 people.
Not all of Biden's nominees have fared as well. Take Neera Tanden, nominated to lead the Office of Management and Budget. Tanden's domestic policy chops date back to the Clinton administration. Her experience in health care and budget issues is both broad and deep. So what is her unforgivable sin?
Mean tweets. No, really. Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W. Va., has gone on the offensive, taking Tanden to task for tweets that went after lawmakers in both parties. (This included calling then-Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell "Moscow Mitch.") Her "overtly partisan statements" would have a "toxic and detrimental impact," Manchin claimed with a straight face, apparently forgetting that in 2018 he voted to confirm Richard Grennell to as ambassador to Germany despite Grennell's track record of attacking high-profile women on Twitter.
Another Biden pick, Health and Human Services nominee Xavier Becerra, served 25 years in Congress and oversaw health issues on the powerful Ways and Means Committee. He worked on cost transparency in health care, including hospital disclosure of price negotiations with insurers and prosecution of anti-competitive practices by hospitals. Somehow, some of the senators who confirmed Ben Carson to lead Housing and Urban Development despite his complete lack of experience now see Becerra as falling short.
Biden nominee and U.S. Rep. Deb Haaland would become the first Native American chosen to oversee the Interior Department. She has a track record of championing environmental issues as a leader of the House Natural Resources Committee. A former small-business owner, Haaland pledged to "work my heart out" for the "families of fossil fuel workers who help build our country; ranchers and farmers who care deeply for their lands; communities with legacies of toxic pollution" and others. Her nomination gained some momentum Thursday, when Manchin said he'd vote for her. But it hasn't been an easy road.
Regrettably, Rep. Pete Stauber, R-Minn., went so far as to ask that Haaland's name be withdrawn, based largely on her mining stance and her commitment to renewable resources. He initially did so without talking to leaders of tribes in his district. "To do this without even speaking to tribal communities he's supposed to represent is just really troubling and disappointing," state Rep. Jamie Becker-Finn, DFL-Roseville, who belongs to the Leech Lake Nation, told KARE-11.
It's not that there can be no objections to Cabinet picks. It's the dramatically varying standards that are at issue. Biden has already had to wait longer to assemble his team than most presidents. It also happens to be the most diverse group in U.S. history. Americans should hope that's not the real reason that Tanden, Becerra and Haaland have faced so much pushback.