Sanders, Graham confront Neera Tanden with concerns over 'vicious attacks' against GOP, progressives

Sanders, Graham confront Biden’s OMB director pick Neera Tanden with concerns over nomination

OMB Director nominee Neera Tanden appears before Senate Budget Committee for a confirmation hearing.

Neera Tanden, President Biden’s pick for director of the Office of Management and Budget, was immediately confronted by concerns over her nomination from both parties when she appeared before the Senate Budget Committee on Wednesday.

Leaders from both sides of the political spectrum called out Tanden for personal attacks and statements she has made on social media. Additionally, committee chairman Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., said he was worried about the millions of dollars the Center for American Progress that Tanden used to run has received from large corporations and special interest groups.

“So 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 in his opening remarks.

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Ranking member Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., then said he does not care about where CAP’s money came from, but he is concerned about some of Tanden’s past statements. 

“You’ve been a very partisan figure, you’ve been a very tough figure when it comes to political discourse, and that’s OK too. But calling Mitch McConnell ‘Moscow Mitch’ is probably not a very good thing to say.”

Graham also quoted Tanden as saying that “the GOP’s capacity for evil knows no bounds.”

The GOP leader then noted that Tanden’s “scorn was not limited to Republicans,” referencing a tweet in which she said, “Russia did a lot more to help Bernie than the DNC’s random internal emails did to help Hillary.”

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“The point I’m trying to make here,” Graham said, “is that in a time of unity we’re picking somebody who throws sharp elbows, and there’s going to be a consequence for that.”

Tanden addressed her past remarks in her opening statement, saying that in recent years “it’s been part of my role to be an impassioned advocate.” She said she regrets her past language and has “expressed that regret to Sen. Sanders and other members of this committee.”

Sanders then directly asked Tanden about her past statements to kick off the question-and-answer portion of the hearing.

A split image of Neera Tanden, President Joe Biden’s nominee for Director of the Office of Management and Budget, and Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., chairman of the Senate Committee on the Budget, during a hearing on Capitol Hill Wednesday, Feb. 10, 2021. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik, Pool)
((AP Photo/Andrew Harnik, Pool))

“I think most of us understand that it’s important that we debate the issues and try to minimize the level of personal and vicious attacks that seem to be so prevalent all over this country today,” Sanders said before mentioning that he had received a letter from Republicans stating their concern with Tanden’s past attacks.

“But of course your attacks were not just made against Republicans,” Sanders said. “There were vicious attacks made against progressives, people who I have worked with, me personally. So as you come before this committee to assume a very important role in the United States government, at a time when we need serious work on serious issues and not personal attacks on anybody, whether they’re on the left or the right, can you reflect a little bit about some of the decisions and the personal statements that you have made in recent years?”

Tanden said she recognizes now the damage that her statements have caused and that she feels “badly” about it.

“And I really regret it and I recognize it’s really important for me to demonstrate that I can work with others and I look forward to taking that burden and I apologize to people on either the left or right who were hurt by what I’ve said,” she added.

Sanders said the point is not whether people were hurt by Tanden’s words, but the words themselves.

“It’s not a question of being hurt, we’re all big boys,” Sanders said. “But it’s important that we make the attacks expressing our differences on policy, that we don’t need to make personal attacks no matter what views somebody may hold. So can we assume that as director of the OMB we’re going to see a different approach if you are appointed than you have taken at CAP?”

“Absolutely,” Tanden said.

Sanders went on to once against bring up the millions of dollars CAP received from large corporations under Tanden’s leadership, representing “some of the most powerful special interests in our country.” He said that since 2014 the group received $5.5 million from Walmart, $1.4 million from Google, $900,000 from Bank of America, $800,000 from Facebook, and $550,000 from Amazon.

Tanden assured Sanders that these donations “will have zero impact on my decision making,” and that she will act on behalf of “the interests of the American people.”

Wednesday’s hearing was Tanden’s second on consecutive days. On Tuesday, she appeared before the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, where she was also confronted with her past statements. 

The first Republican on the Senate Homeland Security Committee to question Tanden, Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, immediately brought up Tanden’s posts, many of which she deleted late last year.

“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, and in your case, I’m concerned that your personal attacks about specific senators will make it more difficult for you to work with them,” Portman said. 

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Portman then cited several examples of Tanden’s statements, including her calling Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, “the worst” and Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., a “fraud,” saying that “vampires have more heart than Ted Cruz,” and referring to then-Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., as “Moscow Mitch” and “Voldemort,” referring to the Harry Potter villain.

“I recognize the concern,” Tanden replied. “I deeply regret and apologize for my language – some of my past language. I recognize that this role is a bipartisan role, and I know I have to earn the trust of senators across the board. I will work very aggressively to meet that concern.”

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