President Biden’s nominee to run the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) appears to be headed for a close, party-line vote in the Senate this week amid Republican concerns about her past ties to critical race theory and Ibram X. Kendi.
Sen. Josh Hawley, R-Mo., has spearheaded GOP concerns about Kiran Ahuja, the president’s OPM pick who Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., filed cloture on last week. That is likely to set up a procedural vote on her nomination this week, which will indicate whether Ahuja has the support to be confirmed on a final vote.
Hawley said earlier this month that Ahuja “has embraced and promoted radical racial theorists as ‘thought leaders.’ I’m highly concerned about this politicization of the federal government.” But with Democrats in control of the Senate, Ahuja’s nomination is still moving ahead, and she is likely to be installed as the OPM director by the end of the week.
Ahuja made it out of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee (HSGAC) on a party-line vote in April. That means Sens. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, and Rob Portman, R-Ohio, voted against Ahuja, eliminating two possible swing votes that would almost certainly guarantee her confirmation.
Kiran Arjandas Ahuja appears before a Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs nominations hearing, to be Director of the Office of Personnel Management, in the Dirksen Senate Office Building in Washington, April 22, 2021. (Credit: POOL via CNP/INSTARimages/Cover Images) (Reuters)
“Her previous support of critical race theory is deeply concerning to me and I think that’s true with a number of my colleagues,” Portman said at the markup for Ahuja’s nomination.
Sens. Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz., and Maggie Hassan, D-N.H., meanwhile, voted yes on advancing Ahuja from the committee, meaning the two moderates who could kill her nomination appear to be sticking with Democrats.
This leaves unaccounted for a few bipartisan-minded Republicans and moderate Democrats.
That group includes Sens. Mark Kelly, D-Ariz., Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., Susan Collins, R-Maine, Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, and Richard Burr, R-N.C. – none of whom returned requests for comment from Fox News about how they plan to vote on Ahuja’s nomination.
Democrats have largely stuck with the president on his nominees except in rare cases like the failed nomination of Neera Tanden to run the Office of Management and Budget, and that was largely because of her history of caustic tweets against senators. Moderate Republicans have tended to follow the lead of Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., who came out against Ahuja last week.
“This is the position responsible for making hiring, payroll and training decisions that affect millions of federal employees,” McConnell said last week. “The president’s nominee has made statements expressing sympathy for the discredited, ahistorical claims about our nation’s origins that form the backbone of so-called ‘critical race theory.'”
“One major organization of federal employees expressed its concern about the nominee’s capacity for, quote, ‘neutrality, fairness and impartiality,'” McConnell continued. “I share those concerns, and will be voting against the Ahuja nomination.”
Sen. Josh Hawley, R-Mo., speaks during a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Tuesday, March 2, 2021. Hawley has led Republican resistance to Biden OPM nominee Kiran Ahuja over her ties to critical race theory. Photographer: Graeme Jennings/Washington Examiner/Bloomberg via Getty Images
The group McConnell quoted was the Federal Law Enforcement Officers Association, whose president, Larry Cosme, called critical race theory “an extremist theory” that “does nothing to draw Americans together.”
The White House, however, has defended Ahuja, who worked in the OPM during the Obama administration and worked on the Biden transition organization’s review team for the agency.
“Kiran Ahuja is a qualified, experienced and dedicated public servant who we are looking forward to leading the Office of Personnel Management in its work protecting the safety of the workforce, empowering federal employees, and building a federal workforce that looks like America,” a White House spokesperson told Fox News last week.
One of the major concerns for Republicans about Ahuja is that her nonprofit Philanthropy Northwest hosted Kendi, a critical race theory and anti-racism activist, at a 2018 forum.
She also authored a blog post for the group in June 2020 titled “Building an Anti-Racist Future.”
“It is my belief that as an individual you can’t be a true ally to Black communities until you take it upon yourself to understand our racialized history in its most intimate and heinous forms – and learn, as I did, that all forms of discrimination flow from the subjugation of Black and Indigenous people,” Ahuja wrote in the post.
But during her committee testimony, Ahuja said she will focus on protecting “merit system principles” in the civil service and other tasks like employee recruitment and retention.