President-elect Joe Biden’s pick to lead the powerful White House budget office generated early controversy Monday, with Neera Tanden emerging as an immediate target for conservatives and Republican lawmakers.
Tanden, 50, has regularly clashed with the GOP in a manner that Republicans say will complicate her Senate confirmation process. Several GOP senators said Monday that she could run into trouble during confirmation hearings, warning that her “partisan” background could make it hard for her to win Republican support.
The two Senate Republicans poised to lead committees that would hold Tanden‘s confirmation hearings declined to commit to doing so. One of them – Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, who is in line to chair the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee – also said he hopes that Biden will decide not to formally nominate Tanden.
“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,” said Portman, a former Office of Management and Budget director himself. “Of all the jobs, that’s one where I think you would need to be careful not to have someone who’s overtly partisan.”
The other potential committee chairman who would oversee Tanden‘s hearings, Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., chuckled when asked about Tanden on Monday, noting that she in the past has had a lot to say about him. He also declined to commit to hearings for her, saying only that senators will “cross that bridge when we get there.”
Sen. John Thune, R-S.D. told reporters, “I’m not disqualifying anybody, but I do think it gets a lot harder obviously if they send someone from their progressive left that [is] kind of out of the mainstream.” Mick Mulvaney, President Donald Trump’s first budget director, told Fox News that Tanden had very little chance of being confirmed.
Tanden would not be the first recent OMB nominee to face a contested Senate confirmation. Mulvaney was narrowly approved; 51 senators voted to confirm him for the post. Democrats broadly opposed Mulvaney because of his past efforts to slash the budget and his role in a previous government shutdown. Mulvaney even received a “no” vote from Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz. But Republicans controlled the Senate during Mulvaney’s confirmation, making his passage a bit easier.
A loyal Democrat with decades of senior policy-making experience, Tanden has been tapped by Biden to lead the White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB), which plays a crucial role in setting the president’s economic agenda and approving agency policies. She would be the first woman of color to lead the budget office.
She was a close ally of former secretary of state Hillary Clinton and served as a senior adviser to President Obama’s Department of Health and Human Services, where she helped draft the Affordable Care Act. She most recently served as president of the Center for American Progress (CAP), a left-leaning think tank with deep ties to Democratic policy-makers. The OMB plays a pivotal role in the White House because of its role in setting the federal budget and clearing new regulations.
“She’ll be well situated to play hard,” said Dean Baker, a liberal economist. “Tanden is obviously an inside player, but she has been around Washington and will be smart on pushing stuff in ways that get through.”
If confirmed to lead the OMB, Tanden would be one of the central economic voices in the Biden administration, along with Janet Yellen, the former Federal Reserve chairwoman chosen to lead the Treasury Department; Cecilia Rouse, a Princeton University economist chosen to lead the White House Council of Economic Advisers; and Brian Deese, a BlackRock executive named to lead the White House National Economic Council. All but Deese would require Senate confirmation.
Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, a member of the Senate GOP leadership, said he did not see any reason why he would oppose Yellen, but he called Tanden Biden’s “worst nominee so far.”
“I think, in light of her combative and insulting comments about many members of the Senate, mainly on our side of the aisle, that it creates certainly a problematic path,” he said Monday.
Tanden would be required to go through two Senate confirmation hearings – one through the Budget Committee and the other through the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee. The OMB is a rare Cabinet position in which nominees have to file their tax returns to the committees for review.
The daughter of Indian immigrants, Tanden was raised by a single mother who relied on government assistance programs before attending the University of California at Los Angeles and Yale University’s law school.
“After my parents were divorced when I was young, my mother relied on public food and housing programs to get by,” Tanden tweeted Monday. “Now, I’m being nominated to help ensure those programs are secure, and ensure families like mine can live with dignity. I am beyond honored.”
Tanden held prominent policy positions in the administrations of Presidents Bill Clinton and Barack Obama, and her resume played a role in her selection to lead the OMB. She has denied playing a role in Clinton’s welfare policy, which many Democrats now view as a mistake. At the Center for American Progress, Tanden also helped push the party left on budget and spending issues, though she initially expressed openness to cutting Social Security and Medicare along with many other Washington liberals at the time.
And if Tanden gets the job, she will have to work with Congress to get the budget through. She was one of the vehement critics of Trump and has said his “actions and words are tearing the country apart, and it falls upon every government official of both parties and every citizen to reject his call.”
A Yale law graduate, Tanden had earlier worked for former President Bill Clinton’s campaign and went on to work at the White House as an associate director for domestic policy and as an adviser to Hillary Clinton. When Hillary Clinton ran successfully for senator, Tanden was her deputy campaign manager and became her legislative director after her election.
Meanwhile, a loyalist to President Donald Trump who was connected to efforts to spread conspiracy theories about President-elect Joe Biden has been put in charge of the Pentagon transition effort and will oversee coordination with the incoming Biden-Kamala Harris administration.
CNN reports that Kash Patel, a former aide to Republican Rep. Devin Nunes who currently serves as chief of staff to Acting Secretary of Defense Christopher Miller, will lead the transition in the Pentagon.
While it is not unusual for someone in that job to take a leading role in the transition effort, two defense officials told CNN that Patel will likely come under scrutiny from many inside the Pentagon who are watching to see how cooperative he may be with the Biden team, the report notes.