On Wednesday night, Ron Klain, the White House chief of staff, went on television to proclaim that the Biden administration was still “fighting our guts out” to get Neera Tanden confirmed as the head of the Office of Management and Budget.
It was a fight that Mr. Klain and others in the West Wing had not expected to have to wage.
After Democrats picked up two Senate seats in twin Georgia runoff elections in January, giving the party control of the Senate and the incoming Biden team more leeway in its nominations, Ms. Tanden was seen as a strong pick to serve as budget director. Mr. Klain pushed hard for Ms. Tanden, a longtime friend, even while some other aides worried picking her would create a distraction and require the White House to expend political capital best used to pass the relief bill.
But the back-of-the-envelope math looked good for her confirmation, even accounting for the concerns about her being seen as partisan and unstrategically belligerent in social media posts.
The White House did not have promised Republican votes, but officials were hearing encouraging rumblings. Senator Mitt Romney of Utah, for instance, had told mutual contacts he was inclined to give the president his pick, according to two people involved in the process.
Democrats close to the administration said Ms. Tanden had been expecting a level of Republican support similar to Alejandro Mayorkas, the homeland security secretary, who was confirmed with six Republicans joining 50 Democrats to vote for his confirmation.
But by Thursday afternoon, the fight to confirm Ms. Tanden had come down to whether Mr. Biden’s team could scrounge up one lonely Republican to support her nomination. (With Senator Joe Manchin III, Democrat of West Virginia, in the “no” column, at least one Republican would be needed to join all Democrats in support.)
After Senator Charles E. Grassley, Republican of Iowa, said he would not vote to confirm Ms. Tanden, there was only one option left on the table: Senator Lisa Murkowski, Republican of Alaska. Even Mr. Romney, who had been in the White House’s unofficial “likely” column, said he could not support a nominee “who has issued a thousand mean tweets.”
Murkowski could still vote to confirm Ms. Tanden. But even if she does, this is not how the Biden team expected the process to play out.
Of the Republicans who had generally been helpful and not totally oppositional to the Biden administration, only Senator Susan Collins of Maine was a locked-in “no” vote for Ms. Tanden, according to one official involved in the process.
With no overarching concerns over Ms. Tanden’s nomination, the White House focused its time and energy instead on preparing two appointees it had assessed to be its most vulnerable cabinet members: Representative Deb Haaland, who Mr. Biden nominated to serve as interior secretary; and Xavier Becerra, nominated to serve as secretary of health and human services.
White House officials said the dam seemed to break for Ms. Tanden after Mr. Manchin said he would not support her nomination. Republican opposition jumped after his vote, and some officials viewed those “no” votes as an opportunistic pile-on.
Biden allies involved in the process said Mr. Klain knew Ms. Tanden’s nomination would be somewhat contentious.
But he and others did not expect her tweets to make her more contentious than other potential nominees. Progressives like Representatives Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Ilhan Omar, for example, were staging protests over the possibility of Bruce Reed, Mr. Biden’s former chief of staff, leading the budget department before the nomination went to Ms. Tanden. White House officials assumed nominees for other posts would face more opposition from Republicans.
White House officials conceded that Mr. Klain miscalculated the opposition to Ms. Tanden. But they also put the struggle over her nomination in context, noting that former President Barack Obama had 57 Democratic Senators and still lost three cabinet picks in his first year. The Biden administration, in contrast, has pushed through a historically diverse and progressive cabinet with less reliable Democratic support in the Senate.
On Thursday, Jen Psaki, the White House press secretary, told reporters that “The president nominated Neera Tanden because she is qualified, because she is experienced, because she has a record of working with people who agree and disagree with her.”
“We’re continuing to fight for her confirmation,” she said.
Dr. Rachel Levine, President Biden’s nominee to be assistant secretary of health, stands to be the first openly transgender federal official confirmed by the Senate, and her nomination has been cheered by advocates for transgender rights.
But Dr. Levine’s confirmation hearing briefly turned combative on Tuesday, when Senator Rand Paul, Republican of Kentucky, opened his questioning of the nominee with a tirade about “genital mutilation” and a demand to know whether she supported gender reassignment surgery and hormone therapy for minors.
“You’re willing to let a minor take things that prevent their puberty, and you think they get that back?” Mr. Paul, who is an ophthalmologist, said at one point. “You give a woman testosterone enough that she grows a beard — you think she’s going to go back looking like a woman when you stop the testosterone?”
Dr. Levine replied calmly that “transgender medicine is a very complex and nuanced field with robust research and standards of care” that she would be happy to discuss with him.
The clash exposed the deep shift Washington is undergoing as President Biden settles into office, undoing the policies of his predecessor, former President Donald J. Trump, who worked aggressively to undermine transgender rights. Mr. Biden, by contrast, is seeking to make his administration more welcoming to the L.G.B.T.Q. community.
Mr. Biden has repealed Mr. Trump’s ban on transgender people serving in the military. L.G.B.T.Q. references are now commonplace, and visitors to the White House website are now asked whether they want to provide their pronouns when they fill out a contact form: she/her, he/him or they/them.
And while the Senate hearing unfolded, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California and Senator Chuck Schumer of New York, the majority leader, convened a news conference to call for Congress to adopt the Equality Act, which would amend the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to include protections for L.G.B.T.Q. people.
Since Mr. Biden nominated her, Dr. Levine has been subject to attacks on social media and from conservative news outlets that have asserted, without evidence, that she has advocated gender reassignment surgery for minors, which is generally not done in the United States.
Dr. Levine, a pediatrician who previously focused on eating disorders and adolescent mental health, was also the liaison for the L.G.B.T.Q. community for the Office of Diversity at the Penn State College of Medicine.
Her detractors have seized on a 2017 speech she gave describing hormone therapy as a standard of care for transgender youth, and also on a tweet she posted in January 2020 about a study showing that transgender youth with access to puberty blocking drugs are at decreased risk of suicide.
“This study is important because it’s the first to show this specific association,” Dr. Levine wrote.
No other Republican followed up on Mr. Paul’s line of questioning, and Democrats briefly ignored his comments until Senator Patty Murray, Democrat of Washington, who presided over the hearing, weighed in to praise Dr. Levine for her “thoughtful and medically informed response.”Ms. Murray added, “It is really critical to me that our nominees be treated with respect and our questions focus on their qualifications and the work ahead of us, rather than on ideological and harmful misrepresentations like those we heard from Senator Paul.”
The Senate confirmed Jennifer M. Granholm to be energy secretary on Thursday, positioning the former governor of Michigan to play a key role in President Biden’s plans to confront climate change.
Ms. Granholm, a longtime champion of renewable energy development, was confirmed by a vote of 64 to 35, with support from both Democrats and Republicans. She will be the second woman to lead the Department of Energy, after Hazel R. O’Leary, who served under President Bill Clinton.
Ms. Granholm will oversee an agency that plays a leading role in researching and developing new energy technologies, such as advanced wind turbines or methods to capture carbon dioxide from industrial facilities before the gas reaches the atmosphere. Energy experts have said innovations like these could prove critical for slashing planet-warming greenhouse gas emissions.
At her confirmation hearing last month, Ms. Granholm sought to allay fears by lawmakers that transitioning the United States away from fossil fuels and toward cleaner energy sources would devastate the nation’s economy. She pointed to her experience as Michigan’s governor during the 2009 recession, when the state invested heavily in electric vehicle technology and worker retraining programs amid efforts to rescue an ailing auto industry that had long focused on building gasoline-powered cars and trucks.
“I understand what it’s like to look into the eyes of men and women who have lost their jobs through no fault of their own,” Ms. Granholm said. But clean energy, she added, “is a sector that every single state can benefit from.”
Ms. Granholm could face challenges in managing the sprawling federal agency. Only about one-fifth of the Energy Department’s $35 billion annual budget is devoted to energy programs. The rest goes toward maintaining the nation’s nuclear weapons arsenal, cleaning up environmental messes from the Cold War and conducting scientific research in areas like high-energy physics at the department’s network of 17 national laboratories.
There is another Joe in town, with the power to give big Joe the jitters.
Senator Joe Manchin III, a genial but calculating West Virginia Democrat who has managed to survive in a deep-red state, is emerging as the legislative keystone of his party’s fragile 50-seat majority.
Being the chamber’s most conservative Democrat endows him with the same power held by Vice President Kamala Harris — the ability to cast tiebreaking votes in the chamber. Without Mr. Manchin’s support, Democrats will often fall short of the 51 total votes, including Ms. Harris, needed to pass anything.
Mr. Manchin — who crossed the aisle last year to endorse Senator Susan Collins, a Republican from Maine who shares his centrism and who once threatened to retire unless Democrats compromised on a budget — has never been shy about using his leverage.
And he has never had nearly so much.
Take Wednesday. His thumbs-up for a Biden cabinet appointee, Deb Haaland for interior secretary, was regarded as sealing her nomination. On the flip side, his announcement last week that he would oppose Neera Tanden, the president’s pick to run the Office of Management and Budget, has rendered that confirmation increasingly unlikely.
These were mere warm-ups for a bigger test. Party leaders are confident that Mr. Manchin will support the $1.9 trillion pandemic relief package that President Biden has made his top priority — but increasingly, they are asking what he might demand in return.
Mr. Manchin has already said he plans to oppose Mr. Biden’s plan to raise the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour, a stance also taken by Senator Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona, a centrist who has shown less inclination to challenge party leaders.
With such positions, Mr. Manchin, a former governor, embodies the polyglot political personality of a state that delivered huge majorities for former President Donald J. Trump but has a deeply ingrained history of trade unionism and support of federal aid programs.
The state’s current governor, Jim Justice, a Democrat who flipped to the Republican Party to back Mr. Trump, has a similar independent streak: He supports Mr. Biden’s plan and urged his adopted party to “go big.”
Senator Charles Schumer, the majority leader, has long believed Mr. Manchin’s loyalty on big votes entitled him to buck party orthodoxies. But Mr. Biden’s margin of error is small and Mr. Schumer on Tuesday made a broad pitch for party unity when asked about Mr. Manchin.
Mr. Biden and Mr. Schumer are not the only ones with small margins.
Mr. Manchin is up for re-election in 2024. He last won his state by just three points, and cannot afford to lose even a small percentage of Black voters and progressives in population centers like Morgantown and Charleston. White House officials know this, and Ms. Harris made a conspicuous appearance on one of the state’s biggest television stations to push the stimulus last month, much to Mr. Manchin’s annoyance.
Mr. Biden can also take consolation in the fact that there is only one Mr. Manchin.
While President Obama entered office in 2009 with a bigger Senate majority, he also had to appease a half-dozen conservative Democrats, like the powerful chairman of the Finance Committee at the time, Max Baucus, who viewed themselves as legislative barons to be courted, not corralled.
President Biden plans to hold his first conversation with the ailing Saudi monarch, King Salman this week. And while the call will be full of diplomatic pleasantries, officials say, the real purpose is for Mr. Biden to warn that the United States will soon declassify and publish an intelligence report about the killing of the dissident and journalist Jamal Khashoggi.
The report will make public the American intelligence conclusions about the role of Mohammed bin Salman, the Saudi crown prince and the de facto leader of the country, in Mr. Khashoggi’s death.
The White House would say little about the carefully sequenced set of events, other than that no conversation between the two men had yet been scheduled — though clearly one was in the works.
“The president’s intention, as is the intention of this government, is to recalibrate our engagement with Saudi Arabia,” Jen Psaki, the White House press secretary, told reporters on Wednesday.
While the Trump administration dealt at length with the crown prince — who was frequently in contact with Jared Kushner, former President Donald J. Trump’s son-in-law and adviser — Mr. Biden is taking the position that King Salman is still the country’s leader, and the only one he will talk with directly. Since the crown prince serves as the defense minister, he has been told to communicate with Defense Secretary Lloyd J. Austin III.
But the issue of protocol is less important than the sharp shift in the way the Saudis are being treated.
The content of the assessment, chiefly written by the C.I.A., is no mystery: In November 2018, The New York Times reported that intelligence officials had concluded that the crown prince ordered the killing of Mr. Khashoggi, who was drugged and dismembered in the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul.
The agency buttressed the conclusion with two sets of communications: intercepts of the crown prince’s calls in the days before the killing and calls by the kill team to a senior aide to the crown prince.
The Trump administration issued sanctions against 17 Saudis involved in the killing. But the administration never declassified the findings — even stripped of the sources and methods — and avoided questions about Prince Mohammed. Senior Trump officials often got angry when asked about their commitment to follow the evidence. They often asked in return whether the United States should abandon a major alliance because of the death of a single dissident and journalist.
Mr. Biden’s view was the opposite. Now Saudi officials are trying to figure out whether the new president seeks to isolate the future Saudi ruler — and will try to prevent him from becoming the nation’s leader — by imposing sanctions on him and leaving him open to criminal prosecution.
The acting chief of the Capitol Police plans to tell a House panel on Thursday that officers on the force were uncertain about whether and when they should use lethal force during the deadly attack on the Capitol last month by a mob of Trump supporters.
“Officers were unsure of when to use lethal force on Jan. 6,” Acting Chief Yogananda D. Pittman planned to tell a House Appropriations subcommittee, according to a copy of her written testimony provided in advance. “The department will also implement significant training to refresh our officers as to the use of lethal force.”
Chief Pittman also said the force would begin training officers on scenarios for how to respond if the Capitol is breached again.
Chief Pittman and Timothy P. Blodgett, the acting House sergeant-at-arms, were both set to testify before the subcommittee about the failures that contributed to the Capitol riot and the steps they are taking to ensure such an event does not happen again.
Both took their posts after their predecessors resigned under pressure in the wake of the assault, in which Capitol Police were overrun by a throng of rioters who invaded the Capitol while the vice president and the entire Congress were assembled inside.
Chief Pittman plans to detail some operational failures that she says she has begun to address since taking over the agency, including training officers on lockdown procedures that were not properly executed during the rampage and on the appropriate use of force.
Katherine Tai, President Biden’s pick for U. S. trade representative, promised members of the Senate Finance Committee on Thursday morning that she would work with Congress to help reinvigorate the economy from the pandemic and aggressively enforce American trade rules against China, Mexico and other trading partners.
“Working with Congress, the entire Biden-Harris administration, and other countries and trusted partners, U.S.T.R. will help to build out strong supply chains that will get our economy back on track,” Ms. Tai said in her confirmation hearing.
“In the longer term, we must pursue trade policies that advance the interests of all Americans — policies that recognize that people are workers and wage earners, not just consumers; policies that promote broad, equitable growth here at home; policies that support American innovation and enhance our competitive edge,” she added.
If confirmed as trade representative, Ms. Tai would play a key role in carrying out several of the Biden administration’s goals, including helping to restore American alliances abroad, challenging China’s unfair trade practices and enforcing American trade rules to help alleviate inequality and mitigate climate change.
She would also help decide whether to keep former President Donald J. Trump’s tariffs on Chinese products, how to address new digital services taxes that other countries have imposed on American technology companies and whether to aggressively pursue new trade deals.
Asked about the tariffs that Mr. Trump had placed on foreign metals, Ms. Tai said that tariffs were “a legitimate tool in the trade toolbox,” but that the global steel and aluminum industries faced larger problems with overcapacity that might require other policy solutions. She said she would review trade negotiations with Britain, saying that the country’s departure from the European Union, the pandemic and other developments since negotiations started in 2018 demanded review.
Ms. Tai also promised to aggressively enforce American trade rules, including new measures included in the revised North American trade deal, the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement. On China, she said her background as “America’s chief enforcer against China’s unfair trade practices” had given her knowledge of “the opportunities and limitations in our existing toolbox.”
Ms. Tai most recently worked as the chief trade counsel of the House Ways and Means Committee, where she helped to hammer out reforms that brought Democrats on board with U.S.M.C.A., which was negotiated by Mr. Trump. Before that, she served in U.S.T.R.’s general counsel office, where she brought several successful cases against China’s trade practices at the World Trade Organization.
If confirmed, Ms. Tai would be the first woman of color and first Asian-American to serve in the position.
Starting on Friday, a medley of conservative politicians, commentators and activists will descend on Orlando, Fla., for the annual Conservative Political Action Conference, commonly known as CPAC. In years past, the event has been a reliable barometer for the base of the Republican Party, clarifying how its most devout members define the institution and what they want it to look like in the future.
For party leaders, those questions have become especially urgent in the aftermath of former President Donald J. Trump’s election loss in November. The party has hardened over the past four years into one animated by rage, grievance and, above all, fealty to Mr. Trump. The days ahead will help illuminate whether it’s likely to stay that way.
Mr. Trump is scheduled to speak at 3:40 p.m. on Sunday, but his presence will be felt throughout the event. On Friday, panelists including Representative Mo Brooks of Alabama, who has enthusiastically backed Mr. Trump’s claims of election fraud, will gather for a segment called “Protecting Elections: Why Judges & Media Refused to Look at the Evidence.” That theme picks up again on Sunday morning, when speakers will discuss what they call the “Failed States” of Pennsylvania, Georgia and Nevada — states President Biden won.
With so many segments anchored in the 2020 election, the conference appears to be less about mapping the party’s future than relitigating its past. The list of speakers, however, hints at who hopes to be the party’s standard-bearer in 2024.
Gov. Ron DeSantis of Florida will deliver the kickoff address on Friday at 9 a.m. Other potential 2024 candidates on the speaker list include Senators Ted Cruz of Texas, Tom Cotton of Arkansas, Rick Scott of Florida and Josh Hawley of Missouri. Mike Pompeo, the former secretary of state, and Gov. Kristi Noem of South Dakota will anchor the lineup on Saturday.
But who isn’t speaking at CPAC this year is as telling as who is.
The most notable absence is former Vice President Mike Pence, who has kept a low profile since Jan. 6, when pro-Trump rioters called for his execution.
Also missing from the list is former Gov. Nikki Haley of South Carolina, who served under Mr. Trump as ambassador to the United Nations and whose absence may signal an attempt to occupy a more moderate lane in the party in the years ahead.
A group claiming that Harvard’s admissions systematically discriminates against Asian-Americans asked the Supreme Court on Thursday to hear their case, betting that the conservative majority — bolstered by three justices appointed during the Trump administration — will see it as a chance to abolish race as a criterion for college admissions everywhere in the country.
The petition portrays Harvard as a worthy object of scrutiny because its admissions system has served as a “model” cited in other Supreme Court cases.
“It isn’t just any university,” the petition says. “It’s Harvard. Harvard has been at the center of the controversy over ethnic and race-based admissions for nearly a century.”
It asks the high court to reverse a lower court decisions in support of Harvard, and to overturn Supreme Court precedent, specifically in Grutter v. Bollinger, involving the University of Michigan law school. That 2003 decision upheld the “narrowly tailored” consideration of race to achieve the educational benefits of diversity.
The petition says Grutter used the Harvard model as its “North Star,” and the rules laid down by the decision are so “amorphous,” “Delphic” and “obscure,” that it has allowed bias and racial stereotyping against “disfavored minorities,” like Asian-Americans, to creep into the process.
“Harvard’s mistreatment of Asian-American applicants is appalling,” the brief says. “Harvard penalizes them because, according to the admissions office, they lack leadership and confidence and are less likable and kind.”
In a statement Thursday, Harvard said it “will continue to vigorously defend the right of Harvard College, and every other college and university in the nation, to seek the educational benefits that come from bringing together a diverse group of students.”
The plaintiff group, Students for Fair Admissions, is led by Edward Blum, a conservative legal strategist, but not a lawyer, who has a track record of taking cases involving race to the Supreme Court. It includes several Asian-American students rejected by Harvard who would transfer there if they could, the petition says.
Mr. Blum was the architect of Shelby County v. Holder, winning a 2013 Supreme Court decision that effectively gutted a key portion of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, and that some civil rights advocates say unleashed new voter suppression laws. He also recruited Abigail Fisher, the white plaintiff in a discrimination case against the University of Texas; the Supreme Court ruled in favor of the university in 2016.
But since then, the composition of the Supreme Court has changed with the addition of three conservative justices — Neil M. Gorsuch, Brett M. Kavanaugh and Amy Coney Barrett — nominated by former President Donald J. Trump.
Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken plans to take virtual “trips” to Mexico and Canada on Friday, an effort to continue diplomacy in as normal a fashion as possible at a time when the coronavirus has shut down most foreign travel.
Mr. Blinken will first “visit” Mexico, the State Department announced in a statement on Thursday, where he will meet with Secretary of Foreign Affairs Marcelo Ebrard and Secretary of Economy Tatiana Clouthier to discuss issues like trade, migration and climate change. Mr. Blinken and Mr. Ebrard will also pay a joint virtual visit to the Del Norte border entry point to discuss management of the southern U.S. border.
The digital facsimile of travel is an innovative, if potentially awkward, effort by the State Department to compensate for Mr. Blinken’s inability for now to take physical trips amid the pandemic, a frustrating condition for a newly installed diplomat determined to rebuild U.S. alliances after the Trump era.
“We’re trying to make it resemble, as closely as we can, a physical trip,” said Ned Price, a State Department spokesman.
Mr. Blinken has been vaccinated, but State Department officials say that given the size of his overseas entourage, and potential risks to people who might gather for his visits in host countries, he is not expected to take a physical trip before late March at the earliest.
Later on Friday, Mr. Blinken will meet with Canadian officials, according to the State Department, including Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Foreign Minister Marc Garneau, as well as a group of Canadian students.
Mr. Blinken’s meeting with the students, visit to the border, and “meet and greets” with embassy employees are intended to replicate the sort of interactions with host countries outside of government ministries that enrich diplomatic travel but have become dangerous because of the virus.
Mr. Blinken joined President Biden on Tuesday for a virtual meeting with Mr. Trudeau, who was broadcast onto a large video screen about 20 feet away from his American hosts, and then appeared on another screen alongside Mr. Biden, standing at a podium, for press statements.
As Julie Chung, the acting assistant secretary of state for Western Hemisphere affairs, put it in a briefing for reporters Thursday: “This is the new world we live in.”