Indian-American Neera Tanden, who is President-elect’s choice for Budget Director in his cabinet, is doing just that after critics on both sides of the political aisle are threatening to torpedo her nomination if it comes up before the Senate, whose confirmation she would need for the job. Although widely regarded as a Washington insider, Tanden culled hundreds of tweets critical of key political players in the US Capital after she was named to head the White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB), whose Director has a seat in the President’s cabinet.
Among the deleted tweets, according to Twitter forensics experts, were one referring to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell as “Moscow Mitch” and other asking voters to direct their ire at a clutch of Republican Senators who enable him and who were up for re-election. Tanden also tangled often with supporters of Democrat Socialist Senator Bernie Sanders who did not regard her as progressive enough, although Republicans claim she is a “liberal hack.”
With the US Senate currently at 50-48 (and 50-50 if Democrats win the run-off for two Georgia seats), Tanden would need the support of every Democrat lawmaker and a couple of Republicans to become the first woman, and first Indian-American, to head the OMB. But several Senators are already voicing reservations. A spokesman for Texas’ John Cornyn has said she “stands zero chance of being confirmed,” and Cornyn himself feels she is Biden’s “worst nominee so far.”
Tanden has also taken potshots at Democrats, including at Biden himself, in a style that her critics regard as pugilistic but which her supporters says is candid. In a 2015 email that surfaced through Wikileaks, she mocked Biden, telling Clinton Campaign chair John Podesta, “The good thing about a Biden run is that he would make Hillary look so much better. What a mess today.” Biden briefly toyed with a White House run before backing down to allow Clinton a shot at the Presidency. Tanden is a known Hillary Clinton protege, and even her mother Maya Tanden was once quoted in the NYT as saying her daughter “can be very aggressive” and “she has loyalty to Hillary because Hillary is the one who made her.”
Still, the US President-elect has chosen to rise above that slight — as he has done with Kamala Harris, who also eviscerated him during the Presidential debate — and nominated her for the value she brings to the table as part of her tough upbringing. “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 honoured,” she tweeted after Biden named her for the job that will have oversight over budgets and projects of all other cabinet members and departments.
To get there, Tanden will have to first navigate past critics within the Democratic Party itself where already a battle is brewing between the so-called “radical left” and moderate centrists. Briana Gray, a former press secretary on the Bernie Sanders campaign tweeted on Monday that “everything toxic about the corporate Democratic Party is embodied in Neera Tanden” and how Biden has nominated a woman “who is openly disdainful of Bernie Sanders and his coalition, but who is friendly with extreme bigots online.”
Others have charged her with being too pushy — literally. In one episode, she was accused of punching Faiz Shakir, an editor at ThinkProgress after he asked her then-boss Hillary Clinton about the war in Iraq. “I didn’t slug him, I pushed him,” Tanden explained later. Shakir, a Pakistani-American who was a congressional aide to Nancy Pelosi, later became campaign manager for Bernie Sanders. If Democrats win control of the Senate, Sanders will likely head the Senate Budget Committee that will hold hearings for OMB Director.
But Tanden has support from many moderate Democrats, besides having the weight of a Presidential nomination behind her. New York senator Charles Schumer, who is currently the Senate Minority Leader but will become Majority Leader if Dems win the two Georgia seats, defender her and other Biden nominees, saying “Republicans are twisting themselves into pretzels to explain their reflexive opposition to these outstanding selections.”
“Neera Tanden, who would be the first woman of colour to ever run the OMB, is so eminently qualified that some on the Republican side—grasping at straws—have taken issue with comments made on Twitter criticizing the policy positions of Republicans in Congress. Honestly, the hypocrisy is astounding. If Republicans are concerned about criticism on Twitter, their complaints are better directed at President Trump, who has made a hobby out of denigrating Republican Senators on Twitter,” Schumer said.