Is Neera Tanden Really Worth It?

Neera Tanden’s nomination for Office of Management and Budget director has received a lot of attention, mostly because of her tweets. She’s faced scrutiny for things she’s said about Republicans (and Bernie Sanders), and as of now probably doesn’t have enough votes to be confirmed. Today, Mitt Romney joined other GOP senators who said they wouldn’t vote to confirm Tanden. But the Biden administration is still fighting hard.

Biden believes in Tanden despite her very obvious and easily searchable past, which includes emails about Libya “paying back” the U.S. with oil revenue, outing a sexual harassment victim in a work meeting, and working to shut down ThinkProgress. The tweets Republicans are complaining about might not even crack the top 10 on the list of issues with Tanden’s nomination. But it makes sense for an administration to cape for one of its own cabinet nominees—in fact, it’s to be expected. Tanden is their nominee and they’re sticking by her, bad tweets and all.

Still, it’s pretty revealing that Tanden is the loudest and most public fight the Biden administration has fought to date. The amount of energy and publicity being poured into an OMB director nominee might do well elsewhere, like in negotiations about COVID-19 relief or ongoing questions about raising the minimum wage. Part of that is who’s being nominated—Tanden elicits a particular vitriol from both sides of the aisle, and for good reason. But it also shows that the Biden administration is more concerned about the optics of a political mud slinging match than actually doing what it takes to bring people desperately needed economic relief.

Comparing Tanden’s nomination and Biden’s American Rescue plan isn’t exactly one-to-one. The mechanisms of getting legislation through Congress are a bit more tedious than confirming a cabinet nominee. It’s not hard, though, to imagine a world in which the energy being used to defend and exalt Tanden were being used in fighting for popular policies like a $15 minimum wage or $2,000 stimulus checks. The language surrounding COVID-19 relief basically boils down to backpedaling rhetoric and bipartisan wishful thinking. It screams defeat before the battle’s even been fought. Tanden, meanwhile, receives the tooth-and-nail treatment despite her buggered past and clear disdain many electeds (and constituents) have for her. Whether it’s a sincere fight or pure optics doesn’t much matter. The administration is making its priorities are clear, consciously or not.