In the ‘Nerve Center’: Neera Tanden Assumes Powerful Role as White House Staff Secretary
- The Indian American will also continue as a Senior Adviser to President Biden, a position she was appointed to in May.
Neera Tanden, a senior adviser to President Biden, was named White House Staff Secretary today, Oct. 22. In her new role, Tanden, who was named senior adviser to President Biden in May, will guide and oversee the policy decision-making process. She will retain that title as well. The Washington Post says Tanden’s selection as staff secretary puts her “in the nerve center of the building charged with overseeing the paper flow for President Biden.” She will report to the White House Chief of Staff Ron Klain.
“The Staff Secretary role is the central nervous system of the White House and moves the decision-making process and manages a wide variety of issues for the President,” a White House official told Politico in a statement.
The announcement comes nearly eight months since the White House pulled Tanden’s nomination to serve as director of the Office of Management and Budget. The Indian American who would have been the first woman of color to lead OMB, faced scrutiny over “mean tweets” during her previous role heading the Center for American Progress.
Tanden replaces Jessica Hertz, a former Obama administration attorney. Politico reported that Hertz was to leave the job Oct. 22, and Tanden will start on Oct. 25.
Tanden, a long-time friend and former adviser to Hillary Clinton, is one of the most influential Indian American politicoes in Washington, D.C. She has previously served in both the Obama and Bill Clinton administrations, as well as on Democratic presidential campaigns. She was one of the principles who drafted the Affordable Care Bill under the Obama administration.
Tanden, who would have been the first woman of color to lead OMB, faced scrutiny over mean tweets she had written about Republicans and progressive Democrats alike in her previous role heading the think tank. She had the support of several progressive groups as well as from South Asian and Asian American organizations, political action committees, lawmakers and influential policymakers who are organizing through phone calls, social media, tweetstorms, op-eds, and sign-on letters.
Her problems began when Democrat Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia announced that he did not support her nomination due to her previous tweets criticizing his colleagues. It bears mentioning that Manchin had voted to confirm several Trump nominees who were no shrinking violets when it came to attacking opponents in the social media. Tanden’s nomination was also opposed by Collins and Sen. Mitt Romney of Utah, as well as Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio). Without support from Manchin in an evenly divided Senate, Tanden needed backing from at least one Republican.
In February, during her Senate nomination hearing, Tanden faced tough questions from members of the Senate Homeland Security Committee and Senate Budget Committee, including its chair, Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, with whom she has clashed in the past. Tanden apologized for her past tweets criticizing some Republican lawmakers and promised to work in a bipartisan manner if confirmed.
At the Feb. 9 Senate Homeland Security Committee hearing, Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) questioned Tanden about her past comments and wondered if she could actually be bipartisan given her track record. Portman read out loud some of Tanden’s past tweets, including the one where she wrote, “vampires have more heart than Ted Cruz,” a Senator from Texas, and the one where she said Maine Sen. Susan Collins is “the worst.” Tanden replied: “Deeply regret and apologize for my language and some of my past language,” as per the CNN report. Tanden has subsequently deleted some of those tweets.
She also aced questions on her history of strongly-worded partisan attacks on Twitter and on her role at the head of the progressive think tank, Center for American Progress. Members of the committee highlighted her history with Sanders and referred to some of her tweets, especially during the 2016 election season when Sanders ran against Hillary Clinton in the Democratic primary.
The Biden administration has yet to nominate another OMB leader. Shalanda Young, who was confirmed as deputy director of the budget office, is widely viewed as the likely choice.