Neera Tanden, director of the Office and Management and Budget (OMB) nominee for US President Joe Biden, appears before a Senate Budget Committee confirmation hearing in Washington, DC on February 10, 2021. (Bloomberg)
Neera Tanden, director of the Office and Management and Budget (OMB) nominee for US President Joe Biden, appears before a Senate Budget Committee confirmation hearing in Washington, DC on February 10, 2021. (Bloomberg)

Neera Tanden’s nomination as Joe Biden’s budget czar in jeopardy

Democratic senator opposes Indian-American’s historic nomination to US cabinet post due to objectionable remarks she had made in the past
By Yashwant Raj I Edited by Nadim Siraj
UPDATED ON FEB 20, 2021 11:11 AM IST

Indian-American Neera Tanden’s nomination as US President Joe Biden’s budget czar is in peril after a Democratic senator announced his opposition to her confirmation on Friday.

Tanden’s nomination as director of the office of management and budget had run into strong headwinds from the start.

It has nothing to do with her qualifications for the job. She is widely seen as capable and had played a key role in shaping former president Barack Obama’s health care law.

Instead, it was about the sharp language she has used while attacking Republicans over the years, mostly on Twitter.

“I believe her overtly partisan statements will have a toxic and detrimental impact on the important working relationship between members of Congress and the next director of the office of management and budget,” said Democratic Senator Joe Manchin. “For this reason, I cannot support her nomination.”

Manchin’s opposition has jeopardised Tanden’s nomination because she needs the support of all 50 Democrats to manage at least a tie in the evenly divided 100-member Senate.

Vice-president Kamala Harris’s constitutionally provided tie-breaking vote would then take Tanden across the finish line.

Biden is confident of getting her confirmed, though. He told reporters during a visit to a Pfizer facility in Michigan, where the company is manufacturing Covid-19 vaccines, that he’s not pulling her nomination. “I think we are going to find the votes and get her confirmed.”

If confirmed, Tanden would become the first American of Indian descent to hold a regular federal cabinet position.

Nikki Haley had held a cabinet-rank position as the US ambassador to the UN in the Trump administration. That post was downgraded after her exit. Biden has restored it to cabinet rank for his appointee, Linda Thomas-Greenfield.

Anticipating opposition over her past remarks, Tanden had apologised several times at her confirmation hearing. “I do think the last several years have been very polarising and I apologise for my language that has contributed to that,” Tanden had said at a hearing on February 9. “I know it’s on me to demonstrate to this committee and to Republican members and Democratic members I can work with anyone.”

Rob Portman, a Republican senator, had referred to her comments about other Republican senators at the hearing, saying, “You wrote that Susan Collins is, quote, ‘the worst’. That Tom Cotton is a fraud. That vampires have more heart than Ted Cruz. You called leader (Mitch) McConnell ‘Moscow Mitch’ and ‘Voldemort’.”

In response, Tanden had apologised, saying, “For those concerned about my rhetoric and my language, I’m sorry. I’m sorry for any hurt that they’ve caused.”

Tanden had been confronted by her non-Republican victims as well. “Your attacks were not just made against Republicans. There were vicious attacks made against progressives, people who I have worked with, me personally,” Senator Bernie Sanders, an independent who caucuses with Democrats, had told her at another hearing. Tanden had apologised on that occasion, too.

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