Neera Tanden’s ruthless tweets continued to haunt her confirmation process Wednesday as she faced the scorn of Senate Budget Chair Bernie Sanders, another target of her public criticism.
In Tanden’s second confirmation hearing for her nomination to lead President Joe Biden’s Office of Management and Budget, senators in both parties dredged up her longtime beef with Sanders, a political nemesis during her 2016 push to get Hillary Clinton elected president. Now the Vermont Independent controls Tanden’s professional fate and made clear her nomination would not skate through the Senate without scrutiny.
“You called Sanders everything but an ignorant slut,” Sen. John Kennedy (R-La.) told Tanden, invoking a sexist slur Saturday Night Live has used satirically.
Republican senators noted that Tanden tweeted three years ago that “Russia did a lot more to help Bernie than the DNC’s random internal emails did to help Hillary.”
While Sanders did not rehash specific tweets, he noted that Tanden has publicly disparaged him and other prominent political figures. “Your attacks were not just made against Republicans,” he said. “There were vicious attacks against progressives, people who I have worked with — me personally.”
Tanden expressed regret for her harsh words. “I feel badly about that,” she said. “My approach will be radically different.”
Pressed repeatedly on whether she “meant” the tweets, Tanden told Kennedy, “Senator, I must have meant them, but I really regret them.”
Republicans have raised concern that Tanden’s past criticism of lawmakers could impede her ability to work with Congress on major policy and funding issues that require bipartisan support to clear both chambers.
During Tanden’s first confirmation hearing Tuesday, Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) noted that Tanden “wrote that Susan Collins is the worst, that Tom Cotton is a fraud, that vampires have more heart than Ted Cruz” and called Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell “Moscow Mitch and Voldemort.”
Tanden also has faced scrutiny for the millions of dollars in corporate donations her liberal think tank has accepted. Sanders said Wednesday that his affirmative vote for her confirmation will be contingent on assurance that the money the Center for American Progress has taken in under Tanden’s leadership will not undermine her duty to “create an economy that works for all of us, and not just wealthy campaign contributors.”
“At a time when the wealthy and large corporations have extraordinary influence over the economic and political life of this country, I must tell you that I am concerned about the level of corporate donations that the Center for American Progress has received under your leadership,” Sanders said, noting that The Washington Post found $33 million in private sector donations to the think tank in an analysis of tax filings and donor disclosures.
“So before I vote on your nomination,” Sanders said, “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.”
Kennedy asked Tanden how she would handle it as head of the White House budget office if “Wall Street comes calling.”
“There will be a perception that if you took Wall Street, turned them upside down and shook ’em, you’d fall out of their pockets,” Kennedy said.
Tanden vowed that corporate donations her organization has received “will have zero impact on my decision-making” if she is confirmed as OMB director.
The committee’s ranking Republican, Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, said the corporate donations Tanden’s group took didn’t bother him.
“I think all of us have received donations from different groups,” Graham said. “That doesn’t mean you’re owned because somebody gives you money. So I’m not going to hold that against you.”
Republicans on the House Budget Committee on Tuesday urged Senate leaders to reject the nomination and raised questions about Tanden’s tweets, while noting broader allegations of sexual harassment and retaliation during her time at the helm of the Center for American Progress.
“It is important that the OMB Director can lead this large office with sound judgment and bipartisan civility,” the House lawmakers wrote. “Unfortunately, Ms. Tanden’s past conduct … raises questions about whether she would be able to provide such leadership.”