Advise and Dissent, or Discontent

Dudgeon is the quaint, perhaps archaic, term for a feeling of offense or deep resentment. In times of old, the phrase was sometimes heightened as high dudgeon, causing anger or even an outburst. The emotional character of dudgeon is known to occur or arise from close relationships.

Observers and pundits in the past few weeks had been eyeing Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) ever since he signaled that he would vote against Neera Tanden, President Biden’s nominee for director of the Office of Management and Budget (OMB).

The Senator from the Mountain State publicly justified his opposition to Tanden as stemming from Twitter posts that he deemed to be over the bar of acceptable politeness in the Washington milieu. He asserted the remarks to be toxic to a relationship with Congressfolks and would compromise the necessary communications between OMB and members of the legislature. According to publicly available records, Ms. Tanden in the past criticized Senators Sanders, McConnell, Collins, and Cruz. But not Manchin – that is, directly. Asserting a premise of considerable insight and consideration, Manchin explained:

I have carefully reviewed Neera Tanden’s public statements and tweets that were personally directed towards my colleagues on both sides of the aisle from Senator Sanders to Senator McConnell and others. 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.

As I have said before, we must take meaningful steps to end the political division and dysfunction that pervades our politics. At a time of grave crisis, it is more important than ever that we chart a new bipartisan course that helps address the many serious challenges facing our nation.

As we noted, high dudgeon to stifle partisan rhetoric in the interests of comity.

During a recent confirmation hearing, Tanden stated that she regretted the language she used and took responsibility for the statements.

The criticism of Sen. Bernie Sanders may also have ignited a low rumble of judgment among progressives, complicating the confirmation. Ron Klain, prior to becoming Biden’s chief of staff, served as chair of the liberal think tank Center for American Progress (CAP), where Tanden operated as president and CEO. Sanders stated:

“Your attacks were not just made against Republicans. There were vicious attacks made against progressives, people who I have worked with, me personally,” Sanders said, reprimanding Tanden. He had written in a 2019 letter to her think tank that Tanden was guilty of “maligning my staff and supporters and belittling progressive ideas.”

Opposition to the nominee presents a novel litmus test for Cabinet appointee qualifications: the dudgeon criterion.

While Sanders has not publicly indicated opposition, several key Republicans have, creating a serious threat to the nomination. Opposition to the nominee presents a novel litmus test for Cabinet appointee qualifications: the dudgeon criterion. Whether high or simply a milder form of offense, future candidates must now be vetted by the FBI and Secret Service to identify occasions when or where their statements may produce dudgeon. Dudgeon-causing language, of course, may be serendipitous, as both Manchin and Collins were recorded as voting in the affirmative for a Cabinet-level post for an individual who frequently had twitterized his criticism of officials. The origins of dudgeon obviously may be impossible to identify in advance.

The Manchin-Sanders criticisms launched from opposite ends of the ideological spectrum create a narrow path for Biden to navigate. Sanders is chair of the Senate Budget Committee. The frooforall has caused a delay in the vote on Tanden, which likely translates into “it ain’t gonna happen.”

Prior to January 5, when every Democratic senator in DC was merely another minority vote in the greatest deliberative body in the world, on January 6, following the double-seated victory in Georgia, every Democratic senator’s value rose immeasurably. Now, at the moment that President Biden might have expected to enjoy a brief respite from political conflict and use some of his earned political capital from a popular 7-million-vote victory to form his Cabinet, instead, within 30 days of his inauguration, he is confronted with the possibility of failing by the one-vote margin.

Manchin has not further justified his opposition on behalf of the criticized senators. Clearly, Manchin is not a progressive Democrat promoting a Sanders agenda. So, what then is the motivation? Has Manchin threatened to switch political parties? At present, Biden has given no indication that he will withdraw Tanden’s nomination, which would appear weak. She may resign to save face. Or the nomination may be allowed to fail by one vote in the Senate, which would highlight Manchin’s outlier role with 49 other Democrats.

Dudgeon is not usually a substantive reason for exercising a Senate vote on a Cabinet appointee. Choosing to ignore the public apology of the candidate seems somewhat petty, especially when and where Manchin was not a target. But, then . . . observers and pundits dug a bit deeper.

In August of 2016, Tanden posted a tweet questioning the compensation of Manchin’s daughter, CEO of Mylan, maker of the EpiPen…. Whew! Why didn’t Manchin simply say so?

In August of 2016, Tanden posted a tweet questioning the compensation of Manchin’s daughter, CEO of Mylan, maker of the EpiPen. The daughter received an enormous salary and compensation increase following a huge price increase in the EpiPen, which followed a questionable tax arrangement with a European company to avoid corporate US tax rates. Whew! Why didn’t Manchin simply say so? All would have understood his dudgeon, although puzzled by his duplicity.

In addition, Dem senators or House members may responsibly and reasonably rely upon the diplomacy and tact of the 46th President not to attack them on Twitter or in the press in demeaning language for their votes. In this masked attack, Republican Congressfolk will smell the blood in the nomination waters and simply refrain actively from the quarrel and vote in caucus discipline to display Biden’s tentative grip over the legislative process. Manchin’s lead provides all the necessary rationale to torpedo the Tanden appointment without touching an iPhone.

Manchin has been around long enough not to believe that opposing this nomination buys him any credit with the opposition. That ship sailed with the GOP hoodwinking Dems on the Garland and Barrett Supreme Court appointments. The nail in that coffin has been hammered into place by the post-January 6 denials of reality. Manchin has never put himself forth as a major Senate player, and now raises the question as to what gain he sees. Has he merely positioned himself as the 51st Republican?

Had Manchin revealed personal pique over Tanden’s tweets about his daughter, it would, at least, have been honest, however petty and undignified. To cloak his opposition in robes of bipartisanship and comity among colleagues is an insidious breach of the Senate’s duty to advise and consent. On that score, it is merely deceit to dissent.

Sadly and disappointingly, Manchin’s opposition rings hollow and unproductive. On March 2, the White House announced the withdrawal of Tanden’s nomination at her request, efforts to garner any Republican votes having failed. As with all things political, Manchin faces a long 4 years to endure under the Biden administration.  


Categories: Issues, National, politics

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