Though the first Indian American in the cabinet of a Democrat president, Tanden will be second overall for the community.(REUTERS)
Though the first Indian American in the cabinet of a Democrat president, Tanden will be second overall for the community.(REUTERS)

Indian-American Neera Tanden named in Joe Biden’s top economic team

Neera Tanden is the first Indian-descent American to be appointed to a federal cabinet in a Democratic administration. Two more Indian Americans - Vivek Murthy and Arun Majumdar - are in the mix of names speculated about for other cabinet positions
By Yashwant Raj | Hindustan Times, Washington
UPDATED ON DEC 01, 2020 12:14 AM IST

US President-elect Joe Biden on Monday named Neera Tanden director of the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) that oversees the administration’s budget and federal agencies, making her the first Indian-descent American to be appointed to a federal cabinet in a Democratic administration.

Biden also named former Fed Chair Janet Yellen as secretary of treasury, making her the first women to hold that position, and Cecilia Rouse, a labor economist from Princeton University economist, as the first African American to chair the Council of Economic Advisers. Tanden is the first woman of color and South Asian to head the OMB. Yellen and Tanden will need to be confirmed by US senate.

“As we get to work to control the virus, this is the team that will deliver immediate economic relief for the American people during this economic crisis and help us build our economy back better than ever,” President-elect Biden said in a statement announcing the new appointments.

“This team looks like America and brings seriousness of purpose, the highest degree of competency, and unwavering belief in the promise of America. They will be ready on day one to get to work for all Americans.”

President-elect Biden, who injured an ankle playing with one of his dogs Sunday, also announced a path-breaking all-female press team for his White House with Jen Psaki as the most visible face of the team as press secretary. She is a veteran from the Obama administration.

Biden made history earlier when he chose Kamala Harris his running mate. She is now the first woman, first black and first American of Indian, Asian and South Asian descent elected vice-president.

Though the first Indian American in the cabinet of a Democrat president, Tanden will be second overall for the community. Nikki Haley was the first of Indian descent to be named to the federal cabinet as President Donald Trump’s US ambassador to the UN, a cabinet-rank position that was downgraded for her successors.

“Big job and a real important first in the Cabinet. She has a great story (single mother, knows what it is to be poor) but went to Harvard and is the most well-versed person in progressive economics I have ever met,” said Shekar Narasimhan, a top fundraiser for Biden and a and close adviser to the campaign and the transition team. “I am (a) huge Neera fan!” Narasimhan, who has known Tanden for a long time, confessed.

Tanden studied law at Yale and served as senior adviser for health reform in the US Department of Health and Human Services developing policies and provisions of the Affordable Care Act, President Barack Obama’s signature law that is now called Obamacare. She was born in Massachusetts in 1970 to parents from India, who divorced when she was five. Tanden and her brother were brought up by their mother. Tanden has spoken of her family banking on food coupons to get by.

“On the heels of Kamala Harris set to become the next Vice-President, it is great to see another well qualified Indian American woman be nominated for a Cabinet level position,” said MR Rangaswami, founder of Indiaspora, an advocacy group for the community. “It is gratifying to see someone who has dedicated herself to public service be recognized for this important role to manage the budget of the country.”

Two more Indian Americans are in the mix of names speculated about for other cabinet positions. Vivek Murthy, a physician and former surgeon general, is a leading contender for secretary of health and human services, a possibility that has been boosted by his appointment by Biden as co-chair of his advisory board on combatting Covid-19, which, the president-elect has said will be his first task after assuming office in January. Others in the race are Michelle Lynn Lujan Grisham, the Hispanic governor of New Mexico, and Jeffery D Zients, director of President Obama’s National Economic Council.

The second Indian American among cabinet potentials is Arun Majumdar. He is reported to be in the running for secretary of energy, to head a department whose key mandate includes the upkeep — not deployment or use — of America’s nuclear arsenal; the department traces its origin to the Manhattan Project.

Majumdar, an alumnus of IIT Bombay, heads Stanford University’s Precourt Institute for Energy and is up against Ernest Moniz, Obama’s energy secretary who played a leading role in the shaping of the Iran nuclear deal, a signature foreign policy achievement of the Obama-Biden administration that President Trump has sought to wreck by pulling the US out of it. Biden may revive it if, as his aides have indicated, Iran covenants compliance.

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