What is blocking Neera Tanden’s rise to the cabinet
Neera Tanden has secured a place for herself in history. If confirmed, she will become the first Indian-American to hold a Cabinet position — and not a Cabinet-rank post such as Nikki Haley who was ambassador to the United Nations — in the United States (US) federal government, as director of the office of budget and management. She will also be the first woman of colour to hold that position.
If rejected, however, which is looking increasingly more probable, Tanden will become the first Indian-American blocked from a Cabinet position.
That’s not a glowing pitch for the history books. But the ignominy will not be hers. It will rest on the shoulders of the US lawmakers who were unable to overcome, once again, their hypocrisy, sexism and even, racism.
With Democrats in charge of the Senate, a confirmation should have been in the bag for Tanden, a Democratic president’s nominee. But in an evenly divided Senate, Tanden needed to carry the entire Democratic caucus — all 50 — to get to the halfway mark, to then be carried over the finish line by Vice-President Kamala Harris’s tie-breaker vote; without having to bank on Republicans.
But Joe Manchin, a Democrat, broke ranks to oppose Tanden’s nomination, leaving her at the mercy of Republicans. She now needs at least one of them to bail her out.
And so far, no Republican has come to her rescue, not even the moderate Republicans.
The problem with Tanden, Republicans say, and Manchin agrees, is this — she is divisive. For evidence, they have cited her scathing tweets from the past four years, targeting essentially, but not only, Republicans.
Here is what she said about some Republican senators: Susan Collins was “the worst”, Tom Cotton was a “fraud”, Mitch McConnell was “Voldemort”, and vampires had more heart than Ted Cruz.
Tanden has apologised for these tweets and deleted them. But that’s not what her detractors are after. Over the same four years, these Republicans looked the other way as former President Donald Trump had been far more abusive on social media platforms and in public remarks.
These Republicans — and Manchin — had also voted to confirm Trump’s ambassador to Germany, Richard Grenell, who had a Twitter reputation far worse than Tanden’s. But he probably got a pass for being a man.
“I feel like there’s a little bit of sexism going on here,” William Kristol, a conservative political commentator, told the Washington Post, though he had not specifically referenced Grenell. “It just seems like these tweets sound harsher to these old guys because they’re coming from a woman,” he added, about Tanden’s posts.
Could Tanden have gotten away with these posts if she was not a woman of colour? Strong and assertive women of colour have often been described as “angry”, “nasty” and “aggressive” to demean and discredit them. Remember former President Donald Trump calling Harris “‘nasty” after he had called her a “fine choice” as a running mate?
Tanden is a victim of bias, of every imaginable kind. The issue is not her tweets.
The views expressed are personal