WASHINGTON – Neera Tanden has made some enemies. The president of the left-leaning think tank Center for American Progress and longtime aide to Hil
WASHINGTON – Neera Tanden has made some enemies.
The president of the left-leaning think tank Center for American Progress and longtime aide to Hillary Clinton has earned a reputation in Washington as a policy heavyweight but also as a political combatant not afraid to wield her words on Twitter, rankling both conservatives and progressives across the political spectrum.
As President Joe Biden’s pick to lead the Office of Management and Budget, Tanden must convince some of her former adversaries that she’s not as “radioactive” as Republican Sen. John Cornyn has described and that she’s the right choice to helm an office critical to selling the administration’s fiscal and legislative agenda.
Tanden is set to appear Tuesday before the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee in what’s expected to be one of the most contentious battles to confirm Biden’s Cabinet nominees despite her seasoned government resume.
If confirmed, Tanden would return to the White House for a third time and as the first woman of color and first South Asian to lead the Office of Management and Budget. But the path to making history could be complicated by her criticism of Republicans on social media as well as her fraught relationship with progressives like Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vermont.
Tanden has had a strained relationship with Sanders, who chairs the Budget Committee overseeing her second confirmation hearing Wednesday before she faces full Senate floor vote. Democrats’ narrow majority in the upper chamber means Tanden can’t afford to lose a single Democratic vote should lawmakers vote along party lines, which would require Vice President Kamala Harris to cast the tie-breaking vote.
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A path paved by social programs
Democrats have praised Tanden for a career that’s focused on advocating for American families, a passion that she says was informed by her own experience as the daughter of an Indian immigrant and single parent.
Raised in Bedford, Mass., the 50-year-old has attributed her success in part due to the welfare programs her mother relied on following her parents’ divorce. During Biden’s rollout of his economic team in December, Tanden recalled her mother’s struggles to find a job, which she eventually did as a travel agent, and the critical role social safety net programs like food stamps and subsidized housing played in helping her family gain a foothold in the middle class.
“I’m here today because of social programs, because of budgetary choices, because of a government that saw my mother’s dignity and gave her a chance,” Tanden told a small crowd of reporters in Wilmington, Delaware. “Now it is my profound honor to help shape those budgets and programs to keep lifting Americans, up to pull families back from the brink. To give everybody the fair chance my mom got, and that everyone deserves.”
Tanden graduated from University of California at Los Angeles, where she met her husband, Benjamin Edwards, and earned a law degree at Yale Law School.
Described by Biden as “a brilliant policy mind with critical practical experience across government,” Tanden has moved in Democratic political circles dating back to the Clinton administration, where she served as White House associate director for domestic policy and as a domestic policy advisor for then-first lady Hillary Clinton.
In the waning months of the administration, Tanden joined Hillary Clinton’s 2000 Senate campaign in New York, cementing their longstanding friendship that would extend to Clinton’s presidential runs in 2008 and 2016. It was during her time as an adviser to Clinton that she clashed with Sanders, then Clinton’s rival during the Democratic presidential primary, and members of the progressive wing of the party.
Under the Obama administration, Tanden a played a pivotal role in helping former President Barack Obama craft his signature Affordable Care Act as a senior adviser in the Department of Health and Human Services.
She has been involved with the CAP since its founding in 2003 by John Podesta, former President Bill Clinton’s chief of staff and an Obama adviser, before succeeding him as its president and CEO in 2011.
According to public financial disclosures, Tanden earned almost $732,000 over the last two years as the head of CAP along with more than $68,000 through the think tank’s advocacy arm. She also earned thousands more in speaking fees with Wells Fargo and Indiana University.
From policy wonk to partisan warrior
Despite concerns that progressives may thwart her nomination, Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, Sen. Sherrod Brown of Ohio and Georgia Democrat Stacey Abrams have joined an outpouring of Democratic support for her nomination.
Following Biden’s announcement, some progressives pointed to comments Tanden made during her tenure as a health care reform adviser to Obama where she expressed a willingness to include cuts to Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid in a budget deal with Republicans. Others decried her opposition to “Medicare for All.”
Sanders, who wrote a scathing letter to CAP and the CAP Action Fund in April 2019 accusing the organization of “bad faith smears” and criticizing Tanden for calling “for unity while simultaneously maligning my staff and supporters and belittling progressive ideas,” has been notably quiet on her nomination but scheduled a hearing for her on Feb. 10.
As OMB chief, Tanden will serve as one of the administration’s leading economic voices, helping Biden realize his campaign promises like improving the ACA – which Tanden helped shepherd through Congress – and implementing an ambitious agenda on combatting climate change.
Tanden, for her part, is already underway with her new role. Last month she held a virtual roundtable alongside United States Trade Representative-designate Katherine Tai with union leaders to discuss the impact of COVID-19 on the American labor movement.
Democrats point to her deep experience in government as a reason she should sail through Senate confirmation, but it’s Twitter feuds she’s picked with some Republicans that could set up awkward confrontations during her Senate grilling this week.
In anticipation for the hearings, Tanden appeared to delete some of her previous broadsides directed at GOP lawmakers and their unwavering support for former President Donald Trump. Democrats were quick to point out Republicans expressed outrage over Tanden’s tweets, but managed to ignore four years of searing Twitter missives by Trump.
And Tanden would hardly be the only vocal partisan to lead OMB. The Republican-led Senate pushed through the nominations of her successors, former House Freedom Caucus Chair Rep. Mick Mulvaney and Russ Vought, who served as an official for the lobbying arm of the conservative Heritage Foundation.
Contributing: William Cummings