The First of Many Blunders: The Appointment of Neera Tanden Has Everyone on Edge

President-Elect Joe Biden has appointed Neera Tanden to serve as the Director of the Office of Management and Budget. While she would be the first woman of color and South Asian to fill the position, there are bipartisan concerns about the legitimacy of her appointment. Her likelihood of getting confirmed continues to decrease by the day- let’s break down why that is.

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Image Source: Biden-Harris Transition Website

President-elect Joe Biden has raved about the mind of Neera Tanden and is confident in her ability to empathize with American struggles given her personal experiences of relying on food stamps and Section 8 Housing as a child. As a South Asian woman myself, I was briefly hopeful to see someone from my community getting appointed into such a position of senior leadership- yet, like with many recent decisions by the President-elect, I was quickly disillusioned. Here’s what you need to know about Neera Tanden.

Issue #1: The Center for American Progress

One of the most controversial things about Neera Tanden has been the financial backers of the Center for American Progress, a nonpartisan think tank where she serves as the CEO and President. The Nation and The Washington Post have uncovered sufficient evidence that the think tank did not openly disclose all of its donors- and for good reason. The relaxed laws on financial disclosure for think tanks has allowed the Center for American Progress to not report their exact numbers, but it is estimated that they received at least $33 million in donations between 2014 and 2019 from the financial sector alone, including firms and yes, Wall Street. The organization has also received anywhere from $5 million to $13 million from Silicon Valley. Senator Bernie Sanders has openly criticized CAP before over their camaraderie with big corporations. Yet, Wall Street is not even the worst of the donations- CAP has received fierce criticism for accepting anywhere from $1.5 million to $3 million from the United Arab Emirates. Yes, the very country that has been allied with Saudi Arabia to fuel the world’s worst humanitarian crisis to date in Yemen- there is great skepticism that this influenced their lack of overwhelmingly harsh rhetoric and calls to action on the murder of Jamal Khashoggi in 2018. The Biden-Harris transition team declined to make Tanden available to comment on the criticisms, which is a big mistake considering the great hesitation which already exists about her nomination.

Why does this matter? Well, it matters because she will have a great influence on our economy via the OMB, whose responsibilities are best described here:

“The OMB acts as the nerve center of the federal government, executing the annual spending plan, setting fiscal and personnel policy for agencies, and overseeing the regulatory process across the executive branch. As OMB director, Tanden would have a hand in policies that touch every part of the economy after years spent courting corporate and foreign donors. These regulatory decisions will have profound implications for a range of U.S. companies, dictating how much they pay in taxes, the barriers they face and whether they benefit from new stimulus programs.” ~Yeganeh Torbati and Beth Rainard

Her coziness with Wall Street and problematic nation-states, along with her inability to lead an organization that is transparent about its financial endeavors, has raised many concerns about her accountability and her ability to be progressive.

Issue #2: Outspoken Bipartisan Disappointment

Directly following the announcement of her appointment, Neera Tanden was slammed with criticisms from some of the most spotlighted politicians from both sides of the aisle. Representative Tulsi Gabbard strongly opposes Tanden’s takes on foreign policy, noting that “Neera Tanden thinks the way to reduce our deficit is to steal oil from countries like Libya to pay us back for bombing them, toppling their government, and turning them into a failed state”. If Georgia goes in favor of the Democratic Party, the Senate will be equally divided between the Republicans and Democrats- yet, if major Democrats like Sanders and Gabbard(can Tulsi Gabbard really be considered a Democrat… let’s save that conversation for another time though) are not even on board, that vote is extremely unlikely to succeed. Republicans, while openly claiming their opposition due to Tanden being outspoken about the GOP senators, have not pushed much since they believe that even Biden knows that Tanden could never get confirmed. Tanden’s image in the media is already severely tainted, and she has not even hit the Senate floor- maybe the only thing saving her image right now is that all the media coverage is focused on the COVID relief bill instead of her.

Issue #3: Her Problematic Track Record- A Clinton Loyalist, A Contributor to DNC Corruption, A Person Who Cannot be Trusted, A Harsh Opponent of Safety Net Programs, and A Poor Leader Who Is Against Workers Unions?!

Supporters of Senator Bernie Sanders not only dislike Neera Tanden because of her coziness with corporations, but also because she was reportedly part of the plan to block Senator Sanders from receiving the DNC nomination in the 2016 Presidential election. As a former staffer of the Clinton campaign, Tanden also has a notorious reputation of creating issues within the Democratic Party, from advising against a $15 minimum wage to reportedly PUNCHING Bernie Sanders’ 2020 campaign manager, Faiz Shakir.

It is important to recognize that there is one progressive figure in particular who has endorsed and openly supported Neera Tanden, and considering all of the previous information here, it is a somewhat surprising one: Senator Elizabeth Warren. Many people have criticized her support for Tanden, especially since Warren claimed to be against the “revolving door” within the Pentagon between policymakers, special interests, and defense contractors.

Tanden has been known to not be in support of worker unions. She shut down the progressive website ThinkProgress over claims of its lack of profit, but also because the workers formed a union. The culture of CAP, which she is directly responsible for, has also been criticized due to its consistent POOR handling of sexual assault allegations- Tanden openly named a victim of sexual harassment at a company meeting.

There’s more- she has repeatedly called Social Security and other safety net programs as “entitlement programs”- given the extreme fight which already exists over just getting ONE check to citizens during this harmful pandemic, the last thing that we need is someone who openly bashes the services she claims to love with her personal testimonies, and who harms and oppresses the community she claims to come from.

What Can We Do?

  1. Text “RESIST” to 50409 to contact your Senate representatives to oppose the appointment of Neera Tanden. Alternatively, if the system is backed up, you can reach out to their offices yourself. Mobilize your friends, organizations, families, and communities to take part in this as well! It takes two minutes!
  2. Sign this petition to show your opposition to her appointment
  3. Continue the conversation- keep her in the spotlight so that there is a strong fight to oppose her.

I want women’s representation, POC representation, and South Asian representation in senior leadership at the White House- I really do. But my fight for women’s representation does not mean that I turn a blind eye to Neera Tanden’s problematic record. If the Biden-Harris transition team takes the initiative to replace her before she reaches the Senate floor, I fully have the expectation that another BIPOC woman replaces her in the nomination. Here’s to shutting down the nomination of Neera Tanden.

Alisha Saxena is a senior at the University of California, San Diego majoring in Political Science-Public Law and minoring in African American Studies. She currently conducts research with RepresentWomen to advocate for ranked-choice voting and for increased women’s representation by means of alternative electoral systems. You can contact her at alsaxena@ucsd.edu.

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