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South Asian Americans Decry Hypocrisy of Those Opposing Neera Tanden’s Confirmation

South Asian Americans Decry Hypocrisy of Those Opposing Neera Tanden’s Confirmation

  • Through social media posts and Twitter storms they are urging senators to vote for Biden’s nominees of color, including Dr. Vivek Murthy and Vanita Gupta.

South Asian and Asian American organizations, political action committees, lawmakers and influential policymakers are coming together to support Neera Tanden, President Joe Biden’s nominee for the Director of the Office of Management and Budget. Meanwhile, Tanden’s confirmation is in further peril as two hearings that were scheduled to vote on her nomination were unexpectedly postponed on Feb. 24. Citing that senators want more time to consider the nomination, news reports speculate that it could be a sign of trouble. 

Last week, Democrat Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia announced that he did not support Tanden’s nomination due to her previous tweets criticizing his colleagues, including Senate Budget Committee Chair Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.). Earlier this week, Republican Senators Susan Collins of Maine and Mitt Romney of Utah announced their opposition to the Indian American, further putting in jeopardy Tanden’s confirmation. On Feb. 22, Republican Senator Rob Portman from Ohio announced that he would vote against Tanden during the confirmation process.

Without support from Manchin in an evenly divided Senate, Tanden needs backing from at least one Republican. However, lack of support from Collins and Romney could possibly make Tanden Biden’s first nominee to fail confirmation. However, she stands a chance if she wins the support of moderate Democratic Sen. Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona and Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, but neither have confirmed their support or otherwise. 

“The groups are focused on three senators who have yet to declare their intentions,” Politico says. They are Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), a member of the Budget Committee; Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), a moderate; and Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.), who sits on the Homeland Security Committee. “They are also reaching out to two long-shot senators,hoping to change their minds: Manchin and John Cornyn (R-Texas), who co-founded the Senate India Caucus, but this week called on Biden to withdraw Tanden’s nomination,” Politico says.

Tanden, a long-time friend and former adviser to Hillary Clinton, is one of the most influential Indian American pols in Washington, D.C. Till recently, she headed 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.

Ever since she was nominated, 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.

Shekar Narasimhan, chair of AAPI Victory Fund told Politico that Tanden “is being held to a much higher standard, even though nobody disputes her background and qualifications to be OMB director.” He added that it is “becoming apparent” that “this higher standard applies primarily to nominees of color, and it particularly hurts with historic nominations like Neera’s.”

Neil Makhija, executive director of IMPACT, an Indian American advocacy group, told Politico that his group is drafting a letter to be sent to the leaders of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs and Budget committees “touting the possibility of Tanden serving as the first woman of color and first South Asian American budget chief.”

South Asians for Biden, a volunteer organization dedicated to increasing support for the president within the South Asian community, has expressed its support for Tanden, and Dr. Vivek Murthy for the Senate confirmation process. Murthy is Biden’s nominee for surgeon general. He could face some opposition to his Senate confirmation hearing on Feb. 25, after financial disclosures filed in the ethics document file revealed that he received millions of dollars last year as coronavirus consultant to the private companies. 

“Is anyone in any doubt that if Neera Tanden was a white man they’d be okay with her tweets,” questioned author Amulya Malladi on her Facebook post. “Susan Collins voted for Kavanaugh. She voted for that dip s**t but she has a problem with Neera’s mean tweets.”

“Tanden will be the first AAPI Woman to serve in an important and powerful Cabinet Level position,” the South Asians for Biden statement read. “We urge both Republicans and Democrats U.S. Senators to appreciate their qualifications & also acknowledge the significance of their nominations and support them. On their social media handles, the group has a guide on how to sport Tanden and Murthy.”

Also extending support to Tanden is South Asian Bar Association (SABA) North America “SABA is confident that Neera Tanden and Vanita Gupta (who is nominated as deputy attorney general), would serve admirably, seriously, and with high competence if confirmed by the Senate,” SABA says. “As a non-profit, non-partisan organization representing thousands of attorneys and dedicated to promoting equal rights and access to justice for the South Asian community in North America, we think that both of these highly qualified attorneys, along with non-attorney appointees like Dr. Vivek Murthy, are among the most accomplished American public servants of South Asian descent, and will serve the nation well.” The Washington Post reported that “Vanita Gupta, Biden’s pick to be associate attorney general at the Justice Department and an Indian American, is the target of a multimillion-dollar ad campaign from conservative groups labeling her ‘dangerous.’”

Support came from local Democratic chapters and the AAPI Democratic Caucus as well. 

The Democratic Asian Americans of Virginia (DAAV) also issued a statement supporting Tanden and urged both Republicans and Democrats in the U.S. Senate to vote for her confirmation. DAAV “stands firmly with Neera Tanden and wishes for swift bipartisan confirmation by the Senate,” the statement read. “DAAV is delighted by the inclusion of an outstanding AAPI woman of color in the Biden-Harris Administration. Neera Tanden is extremely qualified to lead OMB with many years of dedicated service to the progress of this country and its citizens.”

A Facebook post by Arizona AAPI Democratic Caucus urges people to call Senator Sinema’s office today to urge her to vote YES to confirm Neera Tanden! “Confirmation of Neera Tanden may hinge on Senator Sinema’s position. The Senate committee vote has been delayed for Neera Tanden, nominee for Director of the Office of Management and Budget. If confirmed, she would be the first AAPI and first woman of color to hold this cabinet-level post.”

Alluding to how Republicans are “cancelling” Tanden for her tweets, the AAPI Progressive Action lent their support to her. “For 4 years the Republican party watched in silence as Trump weaponized his Twitter account to terrorize our communities. It’s ironic that now they’re cancelling Neera Tanden over her ‘mean tweets,” the post said. We need more #womenofcolor in positions of power. We need more #AAPIs as leaders. Neera Tanden is uniquely qualified to serve as the director of OMB. She has been a leading architect of bold policies designed to support working families, foster economic growth, and curb inequality.”

To highlight Tanden’s accomplishments and rally support from at least one Republican senator, Democrats began a tweet storm on Feb. 23, with the hashtag #YesNeera. Her former colleagues, supporters and friends participated. 

Former speechwriter for Obama, Aneesh Raman tweeted: I have worked with  @neeratanden for years. She is not just a mentor for me and a role model for my girls.  She is also uniquely qualified to lead #OMB and would bring historic – and important – diversity to one of the most consequential roles in government. Raman is the Senior Advisor on Economic Strategy and External Affairs to California Governor Gavin Newsom. 

Similarly, Sonal Shah took to the microblogging website to show her support. “Let’s stand with @neeratanden #TeamPete, please help spread the word that we want senators to vote #YESNeera for OMB Director. Shah served as the National Policy Director for Mayor Pete Buttigieg’s run in the 2020 United States presidential election.

Reshma Saujani, the founder and former CEO of Girls Who Code wrote: “Tired of being told we’re too tough. Enough is enough. @NeeraTanden  is more than qualified for the job. We’d be lucky to have her. #YesNeera

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Some called out the hypocrisy and double standards of the Republicans, noting that it’s Biden’s nominees of color that are facing the most resistance. 

“Is anyone in any doubt that if Neera Tanden was a white man they’d be okay with her tweets,” questioned author Amulya Malladi on her Facebook post. “Susan Collins voted for Kavanaugh. She voted for that dip s**t but she has a problem with Neera’s mean tweets. Neera is a qualified brown woman who was vocal about Republicans. That is no reason for her not to be OMB Director. Suddenly everyone wants bipartisanship but these Republicans were okay voting for Bill Barr,” she wondered. “Neera is a fight worth taking for the White House because I need them to. I hope they will.” The Irvine, California-based Malladi is the author of “The Copenhagen Affair.”

New Jersey-based educator and scholar also took to Facebook to express her frustration. “What is happening to Neera Tanden is a travesty,” she wrote. “Not going to surprise anyone about the hypocrisy among the Republican Senators. They are angry about her tweets, but what about “45”? Nothing. This is politics at its worst.

At the White House press briefing on Feb. 24, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki told reporters that Tanden has had 44 meetings with senators of both parties. “She’s spoken with 15 senators from both parties since Friday,” Psaki said, adding, “Some of those were repeats of people she had spoken with previously.” A day earlier, answering a question at the briefing, she said, “There’s one candidate to lead the budget department, and her name is Neera Tanden.”  

Meanwhile the Hill reports that Sen. Richard Shelby (R-Ala.), has said that he would back Shalanda Young to head the OMB, if the Senate does not confirm Tanden. Axios adds: “The nascent campaign for Young, who would be OMB’s first Black female leader, reflects a stark reality taking hold in the Democratic Party: Tanden’s prospects are rapidly fading.”

According to a report in Roll Call, Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas), has called on Biden to withdraw Tanden’s nomination. Cornyn is the current co-chairs of the Senate India Caucus, along with Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.)  “My friendly advice to President Biden is to withdraw Neera Tanden’s nomination and select someone who, at the very least, has not promoted wild conspiracy theories and openly bashed people on both sides of the aisle that she happens to disagree with,” news reports quoted Cornyn as saying on the Senate floor.

Meanwhile Warner, who was part of the Senate Budget Committee hearing for Tanden’s confirmation, has praised Tanden. “I’ve been supportive of Neera Tanden,” he told news reporters on Feb. 23. “I’ve known her for close to 20 years. She’s smart. She’s tough. I think she’d be a very good OMB Director,” he said. “I think the question now is obviously in a 50-50 Senate for her to get confirmed would require one of my Republican friends to support her,” he added. 

In December, he tweeted after conducting a virtual meeting with Tanden. “I just had a great virtual meeting with @NeeraTanden,” the Dec. 8, 2020 tweet said. “She has the integrity, intellect, and toughness for the job. She is well-prepared to lead the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) on day one. I look forward to the Senate confirming her nomination.”

As per a Facebook post by Grace L Gallowayhair, AAPI-NC at North Carolina Democratic Party, #YESNeera Twitter Storm reached 77.2 million people via social media, with 3.8 million  interactions, and 3.5 million shares. “It also had 7.7K mentions (!!!) with 316.7k likes,” she wrote. Noting that “it is our collective power,” Gallowayhair wrote: “All in less than 24 hours.Regardless of the outcome, we fought hard–and reached 77.2M. Let’s continue to show that when AAPIs unite, we’re not only a margin of victory but also a force to be reckoned with. And this is just the beginning.”

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.

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