Budget nominee Tanden apologizes for tweets, pledges bipartisanship

Former progressive think tank leader has rankled both right and left in the past

Neera Tanden speaks during her Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee confirmation hearing  on Tuesday, Feb. 9, 2021. (Ting Shen/Bloomberg Pool Photo)
Neera Tanden speaks during her Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee confirmation hearing on Tuesday, Feb. 9, 2021. (Ting Shen/Bloomberg Pool Photo)
Posted February 9, 2021 at 7:27am, Updated at 12:42pm

Neera Tanden, President Joe Biden’s nominee to lead the Office of Management and Budget, apologized to senators Tuesday for past social media posts that were critical of Republicans — one of the biggest obstacles in her path to confirmation.

Tanden, a former Obama administration adviser who for the past several years has led the Center for American Progress, a left-leaning think tank, said no one from the Biden transition team advised her to delete more than 1,000 tweets after the November election. She said she would work to “earn the trust of senators across the board.”

“I know there have been some concerns about some of my past language on social media, and I regret that language and take responsibility for it," Tanden said during her confirmation hearing Tuesday before the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee. “I understand that the role of OMB director calls for bipartisan action as well as nonpartisan adherence to facts and evidence.”

[Senate confirms McDonough as VA secretary]

Ohio Sen. Rob Portman, the panel’s ranking Republican, asked Tanden specifically about deleted tweets that referred to Maine’s Susan Collins as “the worst” and Arkansas’ Tom Cotton as a “fraud;” said that “vampires have more heart” than Texas’ Ted Cruz; and referred to Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell as “Voldemort” and “Moscow Mitch.”

“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 and division in our public life,” said Portman, who was OMB director during 2006 and 2007. “In your case, I’m concerned that your personal attacks about specific senators will make it more difficult for you to work with them.”

Tanden didn’t specifically answer a question from Portman about how she decided which tweets to delete and which to leave up, including “nine pages” of tweets about Cruz that Portman said weren’t excised. “I would say again to the extent that people are hurt by my language, I deeply apologize,” Tanden replied.

Next up: Budget panel, and Sanders

The hearing before the Homeland panel is the first in a series of steps that will either end with a Senate floor vote or Biden having to submit another candidate.

Tanden’s work as president and CEO of the Center for American Progress has not only put her opposite Republican senators but exacerbated tension between her and Senate Budget Chairman Bernie Sanders. The Budget panel is to hear from Tanden on Wednesday.

Last week, Sanders, a Vermont independent, said he expected to have a “good, thorough discussion of the role” of the OMB director during the Budget hearing but declined to answer additional questions.

Sanders and Tanden, a former aide to both Hillary and Bill Clinton, have sparred in the past on a series of policy disputes, complicating her path to confirmation. Sanders backers point to Tanden’s work on behalf of Hillary Clinton during her bitterly contested 2016 presidential primary campaign against Sanders, her ties to well-heeled Wall Street funders and lack of support for policies such as “Medicare for All.”

The bad blood culminated in 2019 as Sanders was running again for the Democratic presidential nomination, when he fired off a letter to the Center for American Progress board accusing Tanden of “maligning my staff and supporters and belittling progressive ideas.”

It would be unusual for a committee leader to throw a wrench into plans to confirm a key presidential nominee from his or her own side, no matter their past differences.

Sanders ended his presidential campaign in 2020 much sooner than he did in 2016, rallying quickly around Biden, the presumptive nominee.

Sanders has played a key role thus far in attempting to shepherd Biden’s $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief package through Congress quickly, though he’s differed with the White House on how hard to push for minimum wage legislation in the initial aid bill.

Under Senate rules, OMB director and deputy director nominees can get to the floor even if one of the two panels of jurisdiction deadlocks or otherwise doesn’t report them out of committee. So if Budget doesn’t act and Homeland Security does, Tanden’s nomination would be automatically discharged to the floor within 30 days.

If both of the evenly split panels end up with party-line or otherwise tie votes, under the recent Senate power-sharing deal, Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer could make a motion to discharge nominees from committee directly to the floor. That motion would need a simple majority to be adopted, requiring party unity on Schumer’s side.

Another former presidential candidate, Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., introduced Tanden at the start of Tuesday’s hearing. Later, Klobuchar told reporters that Tanden would not have any problems making it through the confirmation process, calling her “incredibly qualified.”

“And she actually addressed some of the concerns that had been raised about things that she’d said in the past and apologized for them, took it on forthright,” said Klobuchar, a friend of Tanden’s. “I really think in this moment where our colleagues have tolerated all kinds of words from President Trump’s mouth over the last four years. I think that Neera will certainly more than overcome that issue.”

Tanden sought to get in front of some of Republicans’ anger in her opening statement, pledging to “work in good faith with all members of this committee to tackle the challenges Americans are facing; to address duplication or ineffective programs; to be responsive to you and your staff’s inquiries; and to assist the committee in its important oversight role.”

Tanden also tied the experiences she had while younger, when her family relied on food aid and rental assistance from the federal government, to the work done at OMB.

“As I sit before this committee, I’m mindful that my path in life would never have been possible without budgetary choices that reflected our nation’s values — many of them made in the very agency I am now nominated to lead,” she said in her opening statement.

David Lerman contributed to this report.