President-elect Joe Biden’s choice for budget chief does not pull punches online. So when some of her hits aimed at top players in Congress were removed from the Internet, it was clear something was up.
Neera Tanden, president of the Center for American Progress, has deleted over one thousand tweets from her personal Twitter account since the beginning of November. A number of them, since recovered by The Daily Beast, contain comments directed at powerful lawmakers on both sides of the aisle that could turn a relationship to ice before her Senate confirmation hearing to lead the Office of Management and Budget takes place next year.
And that’s exactly what seems to be happening to Tanden.
Tanden deleted some, but not all, tweets from her account lambasting prominent lawmakers like Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), Sens. Joni Ernst (R-IA), and Susan Collins (R-ME), and praising their Democratic challengers. It’s unclear when exactly Tanden deleted them, but many of the tweets were available at least until the fall, according to the Internet Archive.
“Can people on here please focus their ire on McConnell and the GOP senators who are Up This Cycle who enable him: Cory Gardner, Collins, Ernst, Cornyn, Perdue, Tillis And many more,” Tanden wrote in a since-deleted tweet from June 2019 about the seven Republican senators.
When Collins’ re-election appeared troubled, Tanden vowed to treat her challenger, Sara Gideon, “like a long lost relative” and “work hard to help her beat Susan Collins.”
She deleted the tweet sometime after Nov. 5.
By Monday afternoon, two out of the group she targeted had commented. Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX) told the congressional press pool that he believed “maybe” Tanden was Biden’s “worst nominee so far.”
“I think, in light of her combative and insulting comments about many members of the Senate, mainly on our side of the aisle, that it creates, certainly, a problematic path,” he said. Tanden was a vocal supporter of challenger MJ Hegar in her unsuccessful bid to unseat Cornyn, but has since deleted at least one tweet supportive of the Texas Democrat’s performance in an October debate.
Also speaking to Hill reporters on Monday, Collins said: “I do not know her, or much about her, but I do know she is a prolific user of Twitter.”
(Neither Cornyn, nor Collins, appeared to acknowledge the relative absurdity of criticizing tweets in light of the habits of the members' outgoing administration—including the president, himself).
By Monday night, Tanden had changed her Twitter bio to read: “Director of OMB Nominee.” She declined to comment for this article.
Republicans aren’t the only ones who were critical of Tanden’s selection. During the 2016 election, her intense criticism of Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT), who was then the chief opponent of her former boss Hillary Clinton, earned her a reputation as one of the most visible and outspoken figures willing to needle progressives at a time when many sought to minimize the ongoing Democratic infighting as exaggerated.
After Clinton eventually won the primary but lost the general election to Donald Trump, Tanden focused primarily on Republicans, but still frequently riled up movement progressives by taking on some online fights.
“It’s an odd choice for Biden and his ‘healing’ presidency to bring someone in who is so combative, especially on Twitter, being that we just ended a four-year Twitter presidency,” said Josh Fox, a climate change activist and filmmaker who was a surrogate for Sanders in 2016 and 2020. “She causes ire unnecessarily.”
Now, as she prepares for her intended nomination to head up the OMB—a role that would require confirmation from McConnell’s Republican-held chamber if Democrats do not overtake the Senate in two runoff elections in Georgia—Tanden has attempted to scale back parts of her digital footprint that led to her perception as a divisive “extremely online” individual from both the left and right.
The decision to consider Tanden for a spot within the Biden administration had been mulled over for weeks. According to one source close to the Biden transition, officials had internally expressed their intention to vet her for the OMB director position during the Nov. 3 election week. A review of third party archiving services like the Internet Archive and Archive.vn show Tanden’s account began on Nov. 1 with 88,639 tweets, but had 87,588 as of Monday evening.
The deleted tweets also included a barb aimed at McConnell and the Democratic epithet he reportedly resents. “Apparently a lot of people think #MoscowMitch is a threat. Hats off @JoeNBC,” Tanden wrote in a now-deleted post.
Progressives who have tangled with Tanden have often done so over both substance and style. Three progressive sources who spoke to The Daily Beast about Tanden mentioned areas where they disagreed over policy, arguing that she and CAP under her tenure lean further to the center of the party’s spectrum.
“There are people on all sides, in all factions, who will say she’s a bad actor,” said Nomiki Konst, a progressive activist and media figure. Tanden has spent a good chunk of time while leading CAP to “advance very hostile messaging towards the left,” Konst said.
One source close to Sanders described receiving “stunned” text messages from other progressives in the senator’s orbit after Tanden’s name was announced by the Wall Street Journal on Sunday afternoon, saying it was received by some as a “middle finger”—particularly to those who view her interactions online as overtly antagonistic to the left. The source also said that various policy positions promoted by CAP were discussed in a negative light.
“CAP pretends to be aligned with progressive values, but Neera Tanden seems so cynical that she attacks progressive policies like a ban on fracking, the Green New Deal, and Medicare for All,” said Fox. “I just don’t think that’s this time right now. This time is for us to actually get things for Americans who are deeply suffering.”
Tanden’s roots in policy circles date back years. During Clinton’s 2008 presidential campaign, she was an integral member of her close-knit senior policy team, a largely behind the scenes role, one Democratic source who has previously worked with her pointed out. And her advocacy and communication abilities, other Democrats contended, are exactly what will be needed to advance some of the bolder goals of the Biden administration.
She also worked alongside Jake Sullivan and Brian Deese, both of whom are expected to serve in senior positions under Biden in 2021. Sullivan is slated to serve as national security adviser and Deese was reportedly tapped to steer the National Economic Council, signifying a small yet influential revival of some top Clinton officials into the president-elect’s circle.
Rep. Haley Stevens (D-MI), who is now serving in her second term in Congress, was also part of the Clinton policy brain trust more than a decade ago and remains a longtime friend of Tanden. Stevens told The Daily Beast that Tanden “knows how to take on inequality and how best to marshal public resources to help people.”
“As the first woman of color and first Indian-American to lead the Office of Management and Budget, Neera’s nomination is an exciting moment for our country,” Stevens said. “Neera will be dedicated to making sure the federal government works for every American.”
Other Democratic endorsers came in quickly after news about Tanden became public. Sens. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Cory Booker (D-NJ), and Sherrod Brown (D-OH) praised her fairness and intellect, as well as her preparedness for the elevated fiscal role. Meanwhile, Jen Psaki, Biden’s newly announced forthcoming White House press secretary, used one of her first public statements to publicly tout Tanden’s personal story and credentials.
“.@neeratanden=a brilliant policy expert and she knows how vital funding for govt programs is.. as a child for a period her family relied on food stamps to eat, on Section 8 vouchers to pay the rent and on the social safety,” Psaki wrote. “Her fresh perspective can help meet this moment.”
—Erin Banco and Jackie Kucinich contributed to this report.