Neera Tanden

Neera Tanden’s Behavior Actually is That Bad

President Biden has nominated Neera Tanden, the President of the John Podesta-founded center-left think tank Center for American Progress (or CAP) to be his Director of the Office of Management and Budget. That nomination requires Senate confirmation and at the moment it appears that Tanden will be the first and perhaps only Biden nominee to be rejected by the US Senate. Her nomination is being opposed so far by Joe Manchin and every Republican willing to take a position. Why? They say it’s due to her toxic behavior online, claiming it’s a sign of larger character issues that would prevent her from working in a bipartisan way. Several Democratic politicians and voters are calling bullshit, but they’re wrong.

Neera Tanden’s nomination should be defeated and we can find a better nominee. Let me break down the arguments.

Senator Elizabeth Warren said, “The idea that the Republicans are going to complain over someone who has sharp elbows on Twitter is pretty outrageous”. She’s right on the merits there, Republicans not only ignored but often defended the unhinged tweeting of former President Donald Trump. Even though these tweets provoked international incidents as well as an insurrection this past January. Those tweets were clearly more prominent and harmful than anything Tanden could have tweeted because she was not President.

However, Warren’s criticism is probably the most blatantly hypocritical of any that we’ll discuss. Warren notably spent the final months of her imploding Presidential campaign complaining about critical tweets from alleged supporters of Sen. Bernie Sanders. Warren made the case on the debate stage, on the campaign trail, and famously on Rachel Maddow. Warren used “online bullying” being “a particular problem with Sanders supporters” as justification for winning an abysmal third place in her home state of Massachusetts. The tweets would be the reason why she didn’t endorse the only candidate who was remotely close to her ideological worldview in a two-candidate race. These were tweets from self-proclaimed supporters, not even Bernie Sanders himself. Yet Warren believed these tweets were sufficient to disqualify Bernie Sanders from the Presidency. Therefore, it would stand to reason that tweets actually sent by an individual would be more damaging and surely would disqualify them from the cabinet of a President.

There are some who would argue that the true barrier to Tanden’s confirmation is that she is a woman and of Asian descent, implying her roadblock is an issue of prejudice. This ignores that Janet Yellen, Jennifer Granholm, and Avril Haines were nominated and confirmed for Biden’s cabinet without issue despite being women. Linda Thomas-Greenfield, who is black and a woman, received a bipartisan super majority vote. It is not as if racial prejudice or misogyny are strangers to the Senate, but clearly they are not deciding factors in the nominations we’ve seen in this Congress so far. Tanden is failing not because of what she looks like, but because of who she is.

Some have questioned how Manchin could support Kavanaugh and Fmr. Attorney General Barr but not Tanden. In a world where Democrats are held accountable for bad votes, I’d be sensitive to this argument. However, where was the outrage when 90+ progressives in the House opposed funding Trump’s border camps, while Democrats like Sharice Davids and Emmanuel Cleaver voted for it, giving necessary votes for passage? Where was the outrage at any Democrat who approved Trump’s bloated defense budget? It was non-existent because we’ve become just as partisan as the Republicans and we’re more reticent than ever to hold our politicians accountable…unless they betray the home team.

I’d like for a moment to gather some of the twitter discourse that has made many, including myself uncomfortable. Tanden chooses to regularly associate herself with people who are on record saying racist, Islamophobic, antisemitic, and otherwise depraved things.

Tanden said “Happy Birthday my friend” to “Dane Weeks” who on twitter has said “Bernie Sanders is a fake fucking Jew” and “Bernie Sanders heart needs to stop right about now”.

Tanden very regularly interacts with “@electricbrotha” saying to him “I’m definitely thankful for your cold fury. And all you’ve done for the Resistance”. On Twitter this person has said, and I apologize for the vulgarities, “go fuck yourself with crusty the clown Senator from Vermont’s dick” as well as similar attacks targeted towards female journalists he viewed as sympathetic to Sanders.

Then there are of course Tanden’s own tweets, of which she has deleted over a thousand that range from 3am fights with 18 year olds to criticisms of left wing politics to implying the continued existence of Clinton’s “vast right wing conspiracy”. There’s also an assortment of personal insults for many politicians and journalists, admittedly some funny but most fairly immature.

Matt Bruenig formerly of the New York Times and Washington Post said it best, ironically enough on twitter.

Bruenig writes “When people say Republican senators are acting in bad faith about the tweets, what are they saying their real position on tweets is? Are liberals who were mad at Trump’s tweets but not Neera’s also doing bad faith? And what is their non-bad-faith position on tweets? Is Neera herself operating in bad faith by saying tweets should not disqualify her even though she has previously acted in a contrary way? Does she have any views on tweeting per se? Neera’s partisans sent tons of abuse to a WaPo reporter who asked Murkowski about a Neera tweet. Lots of people, including Biden himself, have argued that similar events somehow reflected on Bernie. Does it also reflect on Neera? Was it bad faith before or now? If every story should mention the Republican flip-flop on tweeting when it comes to Neera, shouldn’t it also mention these Neera and Biden flip-flops? Or maybe we just realize it’s all bullshit all the way down?”

What should matter most ultimately is Tanden’s policy record, however. She is a vocal opponent of single payer healthcare. She advocated for cutting “entitlements” like social security in the pursuit of austerity politics. She punched a journalist in the chest because he disagreed with her take on Libya. What was her take on Libya? Well it was that Libyans were indebted to us for massively destabilizing their country and they should repay us with their oil if we’re ever going to convince Americans to support another conflict, yes literally. When it came to sexual misconduct, Tanden outed an employee who had survived an incident during an all staff meeting. When it came to ethical relationships, Tanden chose Netanyahu in his dust up with President Obama and solicited donations from human rights abusers like the UAE.

Neera has been more wrong more often than perhaps anyone else in Democratic politics. We shouldn’t reward her for that. Although she will of course be rewarded, if not with OMB then with undue influence somewhere else. However, if we’re lucky and any cosmic justice exists, we will not have to bear the burden of having Tanden in public life after this fiasco.