Neera Tanden is a corporatist warmonger who outed an apparent sexual harassment victim, allegedly punched a former staffer for crossing Hillary Clinton, and went after Sen. Bernard Sanders’ staff and supporters during his 2020 presidential bid. And that’s just according to members of her own Democratic Party.
It’s no wonder presumptive President-elect Joseph R. Biden’s pick of Ms. Tanden to lead the White House budget office is already on the rocks. Supporters of Mr. Sanders, who was Mr. Biden’s chief rival in the Democratic primary, called her nomination a slap in the face.
“I don’t think she’s a Democrat in my opinion. If anything, she’s a really bad one,” said Carlos Cardona, who chairs the Laconia Democrats in New Hampshire. “Neera represents what is wrong with Washington.”
A fixture in Washington for decades, Ms. Tanden currently heads the Center for American Progress, a liberal think tank.
In April 2019, Mr. Sanders sent a scathing letter to the group’s board after ThinkProgress, its now-defunct affiliated blog, published a piece making light of the democratic socialist’s newfound millionaire status.
“Neera Tanden repeatedly calls for unity while simultaneously maligning my staff and supporters and belittling progressive ideas,” he said. “This counterproductive negative campaigning needs to stop.”
Mr. Cardona, who endorsed Mr. Sanders in the 2020 primary, said local party leaders will be the ones dealing with any related blowback from activists in the coming election cycles.
“I haven’t been very public about these things. … I want to be respectful of the president-elect to make sure that he can make his own decisions,” Mr. Cardona said. “But behind the scenes, I have been vocal to people who have a say in these things.”
Republican senators have predicted Ms. Tanden will not be confirmed. She appears to have deleted hundreds of tweets since early November, many of which were critical of GOP senators.
Despite the incoming fire from all sides, Mr. Biden has shown no signs that he plans to pull back.
He praised Ms. Tanden as a “brilliant policy mind” when he introduced her this week and dismissed Republican concerns about her “nasty tweets.”
“That disqualifies almost every Republican senator and 90% of the administration,” Mr. Biden told the New York Times’ Thomas Friedman. “But by the way, she’s smart as hell. Yeah, I think they’re going to pick a couple of people just to fight [over] no matter what.”
At Mr. Biden’s formal introduction of his economic team this week, Ms. Tanden highlighted the personal struggles of her mother Maya, an immigrant from India who singlehandedly raised two children after a divorce.
“I believe so strongly that our government is meant to serve all the American people — Republicans, Democrats and independents alike — all of whom deserve to know their government has their back,” Ms. Tanden said.
Pete D’Alessandro, who worked on Mr. Sanders’ 2020 and 2016 campaigns in Iowa, said Mr. Sanders will likely be on a collision course with Ms. Tanden next year if she is confirmed.
Mr. Sanders is currently the top-ranking minority party member on the Senate Budget Committee and could be elevated to chairman next year if Democrats sweep the two U.S. Senate runoff contests in Georgia next month.
“She’s just been personally nasty publicly to this guy who was your major competitor,” Mr. D’Alessandro said. “You pick that committee to put this person that you could put in 15 other positions. Yeah, you can see where people on the outside would say man, this sure looks like they’re trying to stick it to [him].”
Ms. Tanden served in the Clinton administration before she became one of the architects of Obamacare during the early stages of former President Barack Obama’s time in office.
She took the helm at CAP in 2011, replacing John Podesta, another longtime Clinton loyalist who chaired Mrs. Clinton’s 2016 presidential campaign.
Ms. Tanden was also an informal adviser to Mrs. Clinton’s 2016 campaign.
After President Trump was ultimately elected, Ms. Tanden threw in with far-left activists clamoring for the Electoral College to ignore the results and install Mrs. Clinton as president — the same type of scheme Democrats now slam Mr. Trump for pursuing.
“[Trump] knows people have intuitive sense Russians did enough damage to affect more than 70k votes in 3 states,” she said on Twitter in January 2017.
Mr. Cardona said he was particularly concerned about an incident from 2018 when Ms. Tanden ended up inadvertently naming an anonymous sexual harassment victim at a meeting with CAP staff.
Ms. Tanden apologized, though one employee told Buzzfeed at the time that Ms. Tanden “lost the organization today” with the public outing.
She also got physical with Faiz Shakir, Mr. Sanders’ 2020 campaign manager, when Mr. Shakir was the editor of ThinkProgress.
Mr. Shakir had apparently dared to ask Mrs. Clinton about her vote as a U.S. senator in favor of the Iraq War, which was a major issue in her 2008 presidential bid that also resurfaced in 2016.
“I didn’t slug him, I pushed him,” Ms. Tanden said later, according to The New York Times.
Neither Ms. Tanden nor Mr. Biden’s transition team responded to requests for comment.
Ana Kasparian, host of the online news program The Young Turks, said most think tanks effectively serve as “laundromats” for political corruption.
“They’re very much part and parcel of the legalized bribery system that we have set up in the United States, and that’s certainly true when it comes to Neera Tanden’s views on foreign policy and on austerity,” she said.
In one 2011 email exchange with Mr. Shakir, as reported by journalist Glenn Greenwald, Ms. Tanden suggested that the U.S. only engage in overseas military incursions if countries like Libya pay the country back with oil — one of Mr. Trump’s offhand ideas for which the president was roundly mocked by the left during the 2016 campaign.
The Daily Poster, a news outlet run by former Sanders speechwriter David Sirota, is now highlighting a C-SPAN clip from 2012 in which Ms. Tanden talks about cuts to entitlement programs like Social Security and Medicare.
During the 2016 campaign, Ms. Tanden had described herself as a loyal soldier who would do whatever Mrs. Clinton needed, according to hacked emails released by Wikileaks that were a part of a Russian campaign to undermine the election.
She also referred to her ThinkProgress staffers as “crazy leftists” after the Clinton campaign had flagged a post saying Mrs. Clinton was making a dishonest attack on Mr. Sanders’ health care proposals.
But Ms. Tanden also questioned Mrs. Clinton’s instincts and her team’s response to the private server scandal that dominated the 2016 presidential campaign, according to emails leaked by Wikileaks.
“Almost no one knows better [than] me that her instincts can be terrible,” she wrote to Mr. Podesta in one email.
Allies of Mr. Biden have praised the policy chops of Ms. Tanden and have tried to highlight the historic nature of her nomination.
If confirmed, she would be the first woman of color and South Asian American to lead the Office of Management and Budget (OMB).
Mr. Podesta called her a creative, brilliant policy analyst and a “person of her word.
“Most of the people who have worked with her know the depth of her intelligence, her expertise, her creativity,” Mr. Podesta said on MSNBC. “I think that if Republican senators would actually sit down and talk to her, they’d find someone who they could have an honest relationship [with], work with.”