- Indian American Republicans, too, join in to question her confirmation chances even as they acknowledge Tanden’s public policy chops and organizational skills.
Ever since President-elect Joe Biden has nominated Neera Tanden as the Director of the Office of Management and Budget, many prominent names from across the aisle have reacted, both for and against the nomination. Her supporters praise her passion for a wide range of policy issues, while Republicans decried her role in drafting the Affordable Care Act and her outspoken criticism of the GOP. Some progressives view her as too wedded to the Clintons’ triangulation or moderation and too close to comfort with corporate interests.
Tanden, a long-time friend and former adviser to Hillary Clinton, is one of the most influential Indian American politicos in Washington, D.C. She currently heads the Center for American Progress, and 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.
In a press release announcing Tanden’s appointment, the Biden-Harris transition team said Tanden’s career had “focused on pursuing policies designed to support working families, foster broad-based economic growth, and curb rampant inequality.”
The Washington Post notes that if confirmed, “Tanden would be one of the central economic voices in the Biden administration, along with Janet Yellen, the former Federal Reserve chairwoman chosen to lead the Treasury Department; Cecilia Rouse, a Princeton economist tapped as head of the White House Council of Economic Advisers; and Brian Deese, a BlackRock investment executive named to lead the White House National Economic Council.” All but Deese would require Senate confirmation.
Throughout her career, Tanden has written and spoken on how budget can be used to make social change happen. In a March 19 op-ed on the Center on Budget and Priorities website, she wrote: “Given the magnitude of the crisis, now is not the time for policymakers to worry about raising deficits and debt,” adding: “deficits and debt pose no comparable risk.”
During her 2014 testimony before the Senate Budget Committee Tanden spoke about measuring our budget priorities against a simple test: “Are we expanding opportunity for all Americans.? She continued: “The budget choices we’ve made over the past three years are hurting people and hindering economic growth.”
‘A Brilliant Policy Expert and a Role Model’
Those hailing Tanden’s nomination praised her work in the Obama and Bill Clinton administrations. In the announcement nominating Tanden, Biden’s transition website highlighted her humble background, noting that she “relied on food stamps and Section 8 housing as a child – a social safety net that offered her single mother the foundation she needed to land a good job and punch her family’s ticket to the middle class.”
In a Nov. 30 tweet, after being nominated, Tanden wrote: “After my parents were divorced when I was young, my mother relied on public food and housing programs to get by. Now, I’m being nominated to help ensure those programs are secure, and ensure families like mine can live with dignity. I am beyond honored,” she wrote.
“Neera Tanden is one of the brightest minds our country has to offer and she’s spent much of her professional life working to explore policy that could positively impact American lives – from access to quality affordable healthcare, to an economy that works for all Americans, to preserving Social Security and Medicare,” prominent Democratic strategist Raghu Devaguptapu, founding partner at the ad agency Left Hook, told American Kahani. “Neera is incredibly qualified to lead the OMB and we would be lucky to have her leading it. Her potential appointment should be taken with great pride by our community. She’s been a role model for many young Indian Americans.”
Among Indian Americans who took to Twitter to laud Tanden’s accomplishment was Neal Katyal, former Acting Solicitor General of the United States. Wow, this is awesome,” he tweeted. “So proud of @neeratanden who will make for a fabulous OMB director at a time when the country needs it more than ever.”
Similarly, Neil Makhija, executive director of IMPACT, Indian American Impact Fund, tweeted: “@neeratanden knows the American Dream. She’ll use every tool in her position as OMB director to tackle economic inequality and revive it. If confirmed, she will be the first woman of color and first South Asian American to serve in this role.”
Those closely associated with the Biden-Harris transition team also took to Twitter to laud Tanden. Calling her a “brilliant policy expert,” Biden’s incoming press secretary Jen Psaki said Tanden knows “how vital funding for govt programs is.. as a child for a period her family relied on food stamps to eat, on Section 8 vouchers to pay the rent and on social safety. Her fresh perspective can help meet this moment.”
Others praising Tanden were Dean Baker, a liberal economist, who called her an “an inside player” who “will be smart on pushing stuff in ways that get through,” while former congressman Barney Frank (D-Mass.) said Tanden “knows what she’s doing. She understands the politics.”
There were some progressives in the Tanden camp as well. Prominent among them was Former Labor Secretary Robert Reich, Sens. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) and Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass) and Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.). “Such a great choice to lead OMB,” she tweeted. “@NeeraTanden will bring the experience and humanity urgently needed in this position.”
Scrutiny From the Republicans
Those opposing the nomination were quick to jump on the Twitter bandwagon. One of the main reason for their contention is Tanden’s role at the CAP as well as her outspoken opposition to the confirmation of Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court in 2018.
In a statement issued on Oct. 6, 2018, Tanden wrote: “Senate Republicans chose to give him the promotion of a lifetime and send a terrible message to sexual assault survivors. In his hearing, Kavanaugh repeatedly lied about matters big and small and revealed himself as an obviously unfit, dishonest, pure partisan.”
Prominent members of the Republican party also took to the microblogging site to express their displeasure. Arkansas Sen. Tom Cotton referred to Tanden as a “partisan hack.” Drew Brandewie, communications director for Texas Sen. John Cornyn tweeted: “Neera Tanden, who has an endless stream of disparaging comments about the Republican Senators’ whose votes she’ll need, stands zero chance of being confirmed.”
Sen Rick Scott (R-Fla.), in a tweet described Tanden as a “big-government, big-spending radical liberal who’s a terrible choice for OMB Director.” He said it was “just more proof that @JoeBiden and the Democrats will continue to move further and further to the Left.” Similarly, Sen. Kevin Cramer (R-N.D.) told The New York Times that “she’s not just a liberal ideologue, she’s a partisan activist who’s gone after senators of the majority party. She seems to have chosen a path that doesn’t lead to a senate confirmed office.”
Indian American Republicans weren’t behind in criticizing Tanden’s nomination. Dr. Sampat Shivangi of Mississippi, national president of the Indian American Forum told American Kahani that despite being historic, Tanden’s appointment is absolutely controversial. “It is a great and exciting news that one of our own is heading to be the director of the Office of Management and Budget at the Whitehouse,” he said. “We the Indian Americans are proud of such an appointment and definitely a cause for celebration,” he continued, and added: “I wish it (her confirmation) was that simple and easy which seems unlikely as she has made enormous enemies in both the parties because of her closeness to Clintons and her very partisan and rude remarks.” He also lamented the fact that Tanden has not kept ties with the community. “The Indian American community knows of her but she has not kept a close relationship with the community. Not many have heard of her advocacy for India or Indian Americans,” he said. “It will be a miracle if she comes out successfully.”
Joining Shivangi is journalist Jaya Sundaresh, who tweeted: “Neera. Tanden. Is. Not. The. Indian. American. Representation. We. Were. Asking. For.”
Harmeet Dhillon, former vice chairwoman of the California Republican Party, and the National Committeewoman of the Republican National Committee for California took to Twitter as well. “I’m getting the feeling that the brown woman was chosen as a sacrificial offering to placate the gods of the right and left before everyone gets down to the business of horse-trading and selling out America,” she tweeted. “Thanks for playing, Neera. There will be lovely parting gifts.”
Tanden’s Twitter Tirade
Tanden faces ire from the Republicans for tweets she’s posted, some of whom were later deleted. Sen. John Cornyn told reporters on Capitol Hill that Tanden was Biden’s “worst nominee so far” because of caustic tweets she had posted in the recent past. Setting new highs in hypocrisy, Republican lawmakers who had not uttered a word against President Trump’s vile, contemptuous and many disgusting insults he heaped on his opponents, have expressed the possibility that they’d weigh Tanden’s twitter tirades.
“Sadly, we shouldn’t be surprised that the GOP Senate majority will spend their time focusing on how she hurt their feelings, digging up years-old tweets while they’ve spent the last four years ignoring every tweet the President has written,” Devaguptapu said. “Maybe Senate Republicans should actually do their job and pass a stimulus package for businesses struggling during this pandemic instead.”
Earlier this month, one of Tanden’s tweet congratulating Biden and Harris for their win, was flagged for with a disputed content warning. She deleted the tweet shortly afterward. “And the monster is defeated,” Tanden’s tweet said. The now deleted tweet read: “Biden is already at 270 and his [electoral college] margin will likely grow with [Pennsylvania], and maybe even Georgia. The mission was to defeat the monster. And the monster is defeated.”
A number of tweets appeared to have been deleted from Tanden’s account Nov. 30 night, but according to The Wall Street Journal, she also once tweeted: “I’m glad McConnell is fiddling, while the markets burn.” According to the Journal, “a Google search for posts on McConnell under her account revealed at least four tweets that were no longer available.” The Journal also checked the Internet Archive Wayback Machine which “showed that the number of tweets under Tanden’s account declined from 88,600 on Nov. 16 to 87,600 as of Nov. 30 morning. By 8 p.m. EST Monday, the number of tweets on her account dropped to 87,500.”
Expectedly, the right-wing media has swung into action in a big way. Fox News even dug out a 2017 Tanden tweet in which she contradicted Michelle Obama’s famous line during her 2016 Democratic Convention speech, “when they go low, we go high.” Tanden’s now-deleted tweet said, “One important lesson is that when they go low, going high doesn’t f**king work.”
Despite her record of standing up for progressive causes and defending the people she believes in, Tanden is likely to face the most difficult path to Senate confirmation. Some Republicans have told new outlets like The New York Times and The Washington Post that Tanden would never make it through the confirmation process.
What they see as her “only chance” is whether Democrats win both the U.S. senate seats in Georgia. But if Democrats don’t sweep those runoffs, Tanden will need at least one Republican senator to give her the 50 votes she needs to be confirmed.
CNN’s Zach Wolf made an interesting observation earlier this month. “No matter what happens in Georgia, there’s a good chance at least one of Biden’s Cabinet picks will fail in some fashion,” he wrote. Citing that “at least one Cabinet pick by every president since Bill Clinton in 1992 has failed to be confirmed,” a CNN report said: “At the moment, Tanden looks to be the favorite for that ignominious honor.”
There’s also the Bernie Sanders factor.
Sanders would be the ranking Democrat on the Senate Budget Committee that will hold Tanden’s confirmation hearings, and the two have had a strained relationship. Last year, Vermont Senator and presidential nominee Bernie Sanders had sent a letter to the Center for American Progress and the CAP Action Fund rebuking the think tank for playing what he called a “destructive role” in the “critical mission to defeat Donald Trump,” the New York Times had reported. Sanders referenced an article and video published on the website of ThinkProgress that criticized the senator for his growing personal wealth.
Following the letter, Tanden had issued a statement noting that the think tank is “editorially independent” of CAP and CAP Action. As per the New York Times report, Tanden described the video attacking Sanders as “overly harsh. We believe the content of the ThinkProgress video critiquing Sen. Sanders is overly harsh and does not reflect our approach to a constructive debate of the issues,” Tanden said. In its report of the incident, Politico said “the clash represents a deeper tension within the Democratic Party as 18 candidates vie for the chance to take on Trump in the 2020 presidential election.”
Brianna Joy Gray, the former press secretary for Sen. Bernie Sanders’ 2020 presidential campaign, tweeted: “Everything toxic about the corporate Democratic Party is embodied in Neera Tanden.”
As per the Washington Post, “Tanden would be required to go through two separate confirmation hearings.” One through the Budget Committee and the other through the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee. The OMB is also a rare Cabinet position for which nominees have to submit their tax returns to the committees for review.
Bhargavi Kulkarni has been a journalist for nearly two decades. She has a degree in English literature and French. She is also an adventure sport enthusiast, and in her free time, she likes to cook, bake, bike and hike.