Finance

Tanden seeks to defuse GOP tensions over tweets

Bloomberg/Pool

President Biden’s budget office nominee Neera Tanden on Tuesday sought to defuse tensions over her political tweets, apologizing at her confirmation hearing before the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee for her partisan jabs on social media.

“I regret that language and take responsibility for it,” Tanden, a frequent cable news guest over the past several years, said in a line she added to the prepared opening statement released to the media ahead of the hearing.

“Over the last few years, it’s been part of my role to be an impassioned advocate. I understand, though, that the role of OMB director calls for bipartisan action, as well as a nonpartisan adherence to facts and evidence,” she said, referring to the Office of Management and Budget.

Tanden’s nomination to lead OMB in the fall was greeted with guffaws by Republicans who had been targeted by her barbs for years. A longtime adviser to former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and unpaid adviser during the 2016 Democratic presidential nominee’s campaign, Tanden during the Trump presidency served as president of the Center for American Progress.

On social media and on cable news, she had sharp words for Republican senators, and if the GOP still had the Senate majority, there would be serious doubts about her confirmation. The Democratic wins last month in two special elections, however, both gave Democrats the Senate majority and took some of the heat off Tanden’s confirmation fight.

The first face-to-face confirmation meeting between Tanden and a slate of GOP senators was nonetheless something to anticipate on Tuesday.

Sen. Rob Portman (Ohio), the panel’s ranking Republican and himself a former OMB chief, went through a litany of Tanden’s tweets that took aim at Republicans who will be asked to confirm her.

Tanden, he noted, had referred to Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) as “the worst,” said Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) was “a fraud,” proclaimed that “vampires have more heart” than Texas Sen. Ted Cruz (R). She also compared then-Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) to the villain in the “Harry Potter” series, Voldemort.

“I believe that the tone, the content and the aggressive partisanship of some of your public statements have added to the troubling trend of more incivility in our public life,” Portman said.

He also noted that even after Tanden deleted thousands of old tweets, his staff found nine pages worth of tweets among her remaining posts about Cruz.

Sen. James Lankford (R-Okla.) said her comments ran contrary to Biden’s calls for unity, noting that Biden promised to fire any members of his administration who treated others uncivilly “on the spot.”

“I recognize the concern. I deeply regret and apologize for my language,” Tanden responded, adding that the onus was on her to earn the trust of GOP senators.

Despite the rhetoric, she said she had worked with right-leaning think tanks such as the American Enterprise Institute and the Cato Institute in the past and could reach across the aisle.

A number of Democrats and outside observes have said it is highly hypocritical for Republicans to criticize Tanden given former President Trump’s use of Twitter during his four years in office.

During that time, Trump called Biden “weak, both mentally and physically,” referred to Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) as “crazy,” told several congresswomen of color to “go home” to foreign countries, and threatened war with Iran and North Korea on Twitter.

Trump’s harsh words were also directed at Republicans and members of his own staff. Trump in one of a number of tweets that targeted women referred to his former White House aide Omarosa Manigault Newman as “a dog.”

Tanden denied that she deleted her old tweets at the behest of the incoming Biden administration, and said she had removed them over the course of several months because she regretted them.

Tanden also at times came under criticism from progressives close to Sanders, who blamed her for the progressive’s loss to Clinton in the 2016 primary. Sanders had criticized the Center for American Progress in a 2019 letter, accusing it of belittling progressive ideas.

The Biden White House sees Tanden’s background and experience as a huge strength for the incoming administration. Tanden is the daughter of an immigrant who has talked about how her family relied on food stamps and Section 8 housing.

During the hearing, Tanden defended Biden’s $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief proposal, which the administration has said will help working families like the one Tanden grew up in. She echoed Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen’s arguments that the danger of passing too small a fiscal stimulus was greater than passing one that overshot the mark, and that the nation’s fiscal situation would be worse off without a strong recovery.

“Economic recovery is our central obligation going forward, and truthfully, a strong economic recovery will help the financial picture of the United States and redress long-term sustainability issues,” she said.

She also said that overhauling federal information technology would be one of her top priorities, in order to boost cybersecurity and make the government more accessible to citizens.

“We have a lot of work to do,” she said. “One of the differences between the United States and other countries is our government can be woefully inefficient and ineffective because we don’t really use technology effectively.”

The problem has taken a recent spotlight following a major government hack that Russia perpetrated by attacking government software suppliers including Microsoft, SolarWinds and VMware. Aging IT systems have also been a notable road block for state-level unemployment systems dealing with record levels of claims during the pandemic.

Beyond the hot political issues, Tanden addressed governance questions covering immigration, permitting, federal hiring, nuclear waste containment in Nevada’s Yucca Mountains, and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) chemicals in Michigan’s drinking water.

Tanden is scheduled to testify in an additional nomination hearing Wednesday before the Senate Budget Committee.

Tags Bernie Sanders Biden transition coronavirus relief Donald Trump Hillary Clinton James Lankford Janet Yellen Joe Biden Mitch McConnell Neera Tanden Omarosa Manigault Newman OMB Rob Portman Susan Collins Ted Cruz Tom Cotton Twitter
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