It seems unlikely that Neera Tanden will be confirmed to lead the Office of Management and Budget, because Republicans don’t like her past tweets.
In a statement particularly disingenuous even for her, Senator Susan Collins of Maine said Tanden “has neither the experience nor the temperament to lead this critical agency.” Tanden’s experience isn’t an issue. She’s worked several campaigns, including those of Presidents Clinton and Obama. She was an adviser to Hillary Clinton on both of her White House campaigns. For the past decade, she’s led the Center for American Progress, a liberal public policy research and advocacy organization for economic and social issues.
What Collins and several other senators don’t like is that Tanden often called them out, in no uncertain terms, on Twitter.
Over the years, she tweeted that Collins is “the worst”; said Senator Tom Cotton of Arkansas is “a fraud”; and that “vampires have more heart than [Senator] Ted Cruz [of Texas].” (After Cruz’s abbreviated jaunt to balmy Cancún while his fellow Texans froze to death in homes without heat or electricity last week, I defy anyone to argue with that one.)
Tanden, a Clinton loyalist, also posted tweets critical of Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont.
GOP Senators Mitt Romney of Utah, Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania, and Rob Portman of Ohio, and Senator Joe Manchin of West Virginia, a Democrat, have announced that they will vote against Tanden’s confirmation — if she even makes it that far. Hypocrisy is the air many Republicans breathe. Many of the same people now in a twist because of Tanden’s tweets never excoriated Donald Trump’s temperament, though he weaponized his tweets throughout his one-term presidency.
For four years, the previous administration was an incessant stream of tantrums, score-settling tirades, and insidious conspiracy theories amplified on social media. A bully by nature, Trump made Twitter into his primary bully pulpit, until his lies about an election he lost and subsequent incitement of the deadly insurrection at the Capitol got him permanently banned from his favorite site.
Nothing Tanden posted merited a ban. She did not spread mistruths about widespread voter fraud or the COVID-19 pandemic. She did not foment an attempted coup that ended with at least five people dead, dozens of police officers injured, and democracy’s house ransacked and defiled.
To Republicans, Tanden did something far worse — as a woman of color, she publicly expressed pointed opinions, especially against powerful white men. Now she’s being held to a sexist and racist standard designed to punish those who refuse to stay in their arbitrarily perceived place. When senators speak of “temperament,” it’s a banal substitute for the oldest accusation leveled against women in politics and beyond: “Too emotional.”
Only men can be passionate in their opinions and actions. Women are branded as hysterical and unbalanced. Even Bill Kristol, a well-known conservative who supports Tanden’s nomination, acknowledged this fact. “I feel like there’s a little bit of sexism going on here,” he told The Washington Post. “It just seems like these tweets sound harsher to these old guys because they’re coming from a woman.”
That’s exactly what’s happening.
Tanden isn’t the only Biden nominee facing resistance. Senators are also questioning the qualifications of Representative Deb Haaland of New Mexico for interior secretary, and Xavier Becerra, California’s attorney general, for health and human services secretary. Like Tanden, they are also people of color. Their confirmations would make history — Haaland as the first Native American in that position, and Becerra as the first Latino to lead HHS. Tanden would be the first woman and Asian American named budget director.
Of course, Republicans are too cynical to have their eyes on history. In her statement, Collins said Tanden’s “past actions have demonstrated exactly the kind of animosity that President Biden has pledged to transcend.” For the GOP, unity means acquiescence to their demands, or they’ll accuse Biden of reneging on his promise to bring together this divided nation.
Tanden still has Biden’s support. On Tuesday, he said of her confirmation, “We’re going to push. We still think there’s a shot, a good shot.” Tanden has met with several senators, and during her hearing she said, “I recognize that my language and my expressions on social media caused hurt to people, and I feel badly about that.” Before she was nominated, Tanden deleted hundreds of tweets, giving the unfortunate impression that she needed to cleanse any evidence of wrongdoing.
What’s wrong is the false virtue of Republicans who are suddenly concerned about rancor in America. Instead of performative fretting, their energies would be far better spent examining the temperament of a party that remains under the nasty sway of a man who uses personal attacks as political weapons — and how their years of infuriating silence emboldened him.