Neera Tanden, the president of the Center for American Progress, could have been President Hillary Clinton’s chief of staff. Or maybe another Cabinet position. Some plum gig, or another, for the first female president whom she’d loyally served for years. In the shock and disappointment that came with President Donald Trump’s defeat of Clinton, though, Tanden settled for the next best thing: posting.
Tanden, whom President-elect Joe Biden intends to nominate as his director of the Office of Management and Budget, has spent the past four years as a leading participant on #Resistance Twitter, endlessly ready to refight the 2016 primary and general elections alike. She has held little back in describing how she feels about Republican members of Congress “enabling” the president. She has treated some of the most far-out Russiagate theories, such as Russia perhaps changing votes in its interference with the 2016 election, with credulity, and she was holding out hope that the “pee tape” was out there well into 2019. (In her partial defense, you might be extra suspicious too if a Russian “spear phishing” operation had exposed you, personally, to national embarrassment.) She feuded with Sen. Bernie Sanders, and he with her, for years, creating a toxic spiral in her relationship with very-online Sanders supporters. The left has also criticized her, and the think tank she leads, for its often unseemly donors.
Though some on the left, including people who worked for Sanders, took Biden’s selection of their antagonist as an insult, they’re not the reason why Tanden could face a difficult confirmation. Within a day of Tanden’s announcement, left luminaries like Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren and California Rep. Barbara Lee came out in support of the nomination, as did progressive Ohio Sen. Sherrod Brown. New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker, whom Sanders once cited in a letter to Tanden as “another friend and colleague of mine” that CAP’s news operation had “attacked,” described her as “brilliant and laser-focused on making our country a fairer place for all.”
Tanden, instead, faces a difficult confirmation because Republicans senators, after spending nearly four years having Not Seen the Tweet, quickly advanced-searched Tanden’s feed for any and all toxicity and came up with just enough to make her a central enemy in the looming confirmation battles.
Tanden loved the nickname “Moscow Mitch” when it was applied to the Senate majority leader in 2019, a “Voldemort” whom she also accused of “fiddling, while the markets burn.” She’s described Maine Sen. Susan Collins, a key swing vote on confirmations, as “the worst” and, in a statement following Brett Kavanaugh’s 2018 Supreme Court confirmation, labeled Collins “the chief advocate for Judge Kavanaugh, offering a pathetically bad faith argument as cover for President Trump’s vicious attacks on survivors of sexual assault.” Much else of what she’s tweeted about Republican senators has been lost in a recent deletion of about 1,000 tweets.
And so, on Monday, as the highest-ranking Republican official in the federal government spent another day accusing governors in his own party of treachery and betrayal for certifying election results, Republican senators lambasted Tanden for her posting record.
Texas Sen. John Cornyn called Tanden’s selection “radioactive” and chastised her for her reckless use of social media. “We’re prepared to try to work with the vice president once the vote is certified,” Cornyn said, “but [she] certainly strikes me as maybe [Biden’s] worst nominee so far.” South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham, who’s in line to be chairman of the Budget Committee should Republicans hold the Senate, at first chuckled when reporters asked him on Monday how he felt about her selection, noting that she’s said a lot about him in the past, but “I’ve got a thick skin.” By the time of his Fox News hit later that night, though, Graham was calling her a “nut job” and implying that she wouldn’t be confirmed if Republicans held the Senate. Arkansas Sen. Tom Cotton described her as a “partisan hack.” Ohio Sen. Rob Portman, who’s poised to chair the other committee that would hold a confirmation hearing on Tanden’s nomination, declined to commit to holding such a hearing and said that he hoped Biden would decide against formally nominating her.
“The concern I have is both judgment, based on the tweets that I’ve been shown, just in the last 24 hours … and it’s the partisan nature,” Portman told the Washington Post. “Of all the jobs, that’s one where I think you would need to be careful not to have someone who’s overtly partisan.” (Trump’s first OMB director was Mick Mulvaney, a Tea Party–er and founder of the House Freedom Caucus.)
As for Collins herself, all she could tell reporters on Monday was that she had “heard that [Tanden]’s a very prolific user of Twitter.” On Tuesday, she added that “she has certainly been intemperate … in her tweets but I’ve never met her, I don’t know her background.”
Tanden’s best opportunity for confirmation would involve Democrats winning both Georgia runoffs and confirming her on a party-line vote if need be. (Could Bernie Sanders single-handedly take down the nomination and hand the Biden administration a defeat, by denying his vote? Sure. Is that generally how Bernie Sanders operates? No.) If Democrats don’t take both Georgia runoffs, they would need at least two votes from Republicans whom Tanden has likely tweeted mean things about in the past.
All in all, we should hope that Tanden’s nomination survives long enough to make it to confirmation hearings. Not because her fate is especially worth losing sleep over, one way or another. It’s because we, the online community, deserve multiple confirmation hearings in which panels of senators read Neera Tanden’s tweets—many of them blown up on posters for visual “pop”—back to her for an entire day. And if Republicans’ focus on Tanden as a “sacrificial lamb” helps smooth the ride for the rest of Biden’s nominees, that’s not the worst outcome for the incoming administration.
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