Most Senate Democrats are likely to vote to confirm Neera Tanden, President Joe Biden’s choice to head the pivotal Office of Management and Budget (OMB), despite Tanden’s egregious vitriol against Republicans — and Democratic Socialist Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.). In questioning Tanden on Wednesday, however, Sanders may have tanked her nomination.
Tanden, the president of the Center for American Progress (CAP), deleted thousands of her vituperative tweets after the 2020 election, but that has not stopped her from facing the music for her previous comments. As OMB director, she would have to work with the Senate, so personally insulting senators is arguably a relevant disqualification.
While Tanden apologized for her previous comments on Tuesday, Republicans continued to press her about them, and Sanders himself turned up the heat on Biden’s nominee.
“I have to tell you, I’m very disturbed by your personal comments about people, and it’s not just one or two, I think you deleted about a thousand tweets,” Sen. John Kennedy (R-La.) told Tanden. “And it wasn’t just about Republicans. And I don’t mind disagreements in policy, I think that’s great.”
“But the comments were personal. You called Senator Sanders everything but an ignorant sl*t,” Kennedy added. “When you said these things, did you mean them?”
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“Senator, I have to say, I deeply regret my comments and I feel badly about them,” Tanden began to reply.
Kennedy pressed her on the question, “When you said them, did you mean them? I understand you’ve taken them back, but did you mean them?”
Tanden dodged the question, repeating, “I feel badly about them.”
Ultimately, she admitted, “I must have meant them, but I really regret them.”
CLIP: Exchange between Senator Kennedy and OMB nominee Neera Tanden.@SenJohnKennedy: "You called Senator Sanders everything but an 'ignorant slut.'"
— CSPAN (@cspan) February 10, 2021
During the hearing on Tuesday, Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) gave some examples of Tanden’s comments. “You wrote that Susan Collins (R-Maine) is ‘the worst,’ that Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) is a ‘fraud,’ that ‘vampires have more heart than Ted Cruz’ (R-Texas). You called Leader McConnell (R-Ky.) ‘Moscow Mitch,’ and ‘Voldemort,’ and on and on,” he noted.
Tanden, a former Senate aide for and long-time supporter of Hillary Clinton, had attacked Sanders as “crazy.”
“I think most of us understand that we debate the issues and try to minimize the level of personal vicious attacks that seem to be so prevalent all over this country today,” Sanders said on Tuesday. “Of course, your attacks were not just made against Republicans. There were vicious attacks against progressives, people who I have worked with, me personally.”
Sen. Sanders asks OMB director nominee Neera Tanden to “reflect" on the “vicious attacks” against both Republicans and progressives on Twitter, including “me, personally.” pic.twitter.com/Sgejxt7EMf
— The Recount (@therecount) February 10, 2021
Tanden repeated her regrets, but Sanders moved on to press her on a separate topic — major corporate donations Tanden solicited as head of CAP.
“Before I vote on your nomination it is important for me and members of this committee to know that those donations that you have secured at CAP will not influence your decision-making at the OMB,” he said. Tanden promised that they would not.
Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) defended Tanden’s receipt of corporate donations, “as long as they’re lawful and fully disclosed.” Graham insisted that “I think all of us receive donations from different groups, that doesn’t mean you’re owned because somebody gives you money, so I’m not going to hold that against you.”
After these tough questions, Sanders moved to ask Tanden about specific leftist agenda items. He asked if Tanden supports a $15/hour minimum wage, lowering the Medicare eligibility age to 60, covering the cost of public college tuition for low-income earners, providing government-funded universal pre-K, and mandating 12 weeks of paid family and medical leave. Tanden committed to all of these leftist goals — revealing her extreme bias when it comes to government policy.
These radical positions would cloud Tanden’s ability to analyze government policy, a key task of the Office of Management and Budget. Among other things, OMB analyzes policies to determine how much they would cost and what impact they would have on the economy. If an OMB director comes from this far-left perspective, she or he is likely to analyze policy through a distorted lens, minimizing the cost of government largesse in the name of justice.
Tanden needs every single Democratic vote for her Senate confirmation. By rightly questioning her about her negative remarks, Sanders gave cover for Democrats to oppose her nomination.
If Sanders decides that her apologies are unconvincing or if he decides that her corporate donations really do cut against her, he may tank her nomination by voting against her. Even if Sanders ultimately votes for her — weighing Tanden’s promises on far-left agenda items more highly than her many negatives — Tanden’s stances on these issues may cost the votes of more moderate Democrats like Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.V.).
Either way, Bernie Sanders may have just tanked Tanden’s nomination.
Tyler O’Neil is the author of Making Hate Pay: The Corruption of the Southern Poverty Law Center. Follow him on Twitter at @Tyler2ONeil.