Sanders not yet sold on Biden budget chief nominee

Budget chairman chides Neera Tanden over 'vicious attacks,' corporate donations; His vote is critical in 50-50 Senate

Neera Tanden, President Joe Biden's nominee for director of the Office of Management and Budget, testifies during a Senate Budget Committee hearing on Capitol Hill on Wednesday. (Andrew Harnik/AP/Pool photo)
Neera Tanden, President Joe Biden's nominee for director of the Office of Management and Budget, testifies during a Senate Budget Committee hearing on Capitol Hill on Wednesday. (Andrew Harnik/AP/Pool photo)
Posted February 10, 2021 at 1:04pm

Senate Budget Chairman Bernie Sanders scolded President Joe Biden's nominee for budget director, Neera Tanden, on Wednesday over past social media posts and corporate donations to the think tank she's run for several years.

Sanders, a Vermont independent who caucuses with Democrats, didn't give any firm indication of whether he'd support Tanden's confirmation, suggesting the White House has some work to do to get the votes needed in an evenly divided Senate.

At a Senate Budget Committee hearing Wednesday, Sanders didn’t hold back when discussing Tanden’s use of social media to challenge him and his allies throughout the years, calling her comments “vicious attacks made against progressives, people I have worked with and me personally.”

Sanders said his criticism of her past comments was “not a question of being hurt” because “we’re all big boys who get attacked all the time." But he expressed concern over whether Tanden would be able to work well with lawmakers on policy issues.

“It’s important that we make the attacks expressing our differences on policy. We don’t need to make personal attacks, no matter what view somebody may hold,” Sanders said.

Tanden pledged her approach to social media will be “radically different” if the Senate confirms her to the Cabinet-level position.

Tanden repeatedly apologized to senators on the panel for her prior tweets, saying that she regrets the comments.

“I recognize it’s really important for me to demonstrate that I can work with others and I look forward to taking that burden,” she said.

Sanders also focused on corporate donations to the Center for American Progress, where Tanden has been president and CEO. He listed off several large companies, including Amazon, Google, JP Morgan, Walmart and Wells Fargo that have donated millions of dollars in recent years.

“Before I vote on your nomination, it is important for me and members of this committee to know that those donations that you have secured at CAP will not influence your decision making at the OMB,” Sanders said.

Tanden said the donations would “have zero impact” on her decision-making process if she’s confirmed as OMB director, but Sanders didn’t give any indication if he accepted her answer.

Sanders' support for Tanden is critical in the 50-50 Senate, where Republicans are expected to overwhelmingly vote against her nomination due to her Twitter record and significant policy differences.

Budget Committee ranking member Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., said during the hearing that he didn’t mind that CAP received corporate donations. But he told Tanden she was not the consensus nominee he was hoping Biden would send to the Senate.

“In a time of unity, we're picking someone who throws sharp elbows and there's going to be a consequence for that, hopefully on our side,” Graham said.

Budget nominee Tanden apologizes for tweets, pledges bipartisanship

The Budget Committee confirmation hearing was similar in tone to the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee’s hearing on Tuesday, during which lawmakers questioned Tanden for her past tweets. 

The Budget panel hearing, however, brought Tanden face-to-face with Sanders.

The two have a particularly rocky past with Tanden having been an aide to Hillary Clinton during the bitterly contested 2016 Democratic presidential primary.

But the differences didn’t stop after the election. In 2019, Sanders sent a letter to the Center for American Progress board accusing Tanden “maligning my staff and supporters and belittling progressive ideas.”

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