The Neera Tanden Mean Tweet Saga Isn’t Really About Tweets At All. It’s About the Left’s New Power.


Neera Tanden probably shouldn’t have tweeted so much—on that, it seems, everyone can agree.

While the new congress navigates a stimulus package for the COVID-19 ravaged country and the new president negotiates a new kind of relationship with the state murder-sanctioning Saudi regime, Biden’s nominee for the Office of Management and Budget has given us the new administration’s first petty-seeming scrum: As the head of establishment liberal think tank the Center for American Progress for the past nine years, Tanden tweeted reams of nasty personal attacks against Republicans, progressive Democrats, and non-famous Twitter users who disagreed with her. They’re all mad about it, and as a result, her confirmation is in peril.

For the past couple of weeks in various hearing rooms Republicans in particular have read Tanden the riot act. “You called Sen. Sanders everything but an ignorant slut,” Republican Sen. John Kennedy said to her, proving Twitter’s unerring ability to drive even the most powerful toward undignified abasement for attention. Last Wednesday, after several key senate votes slipped away from Tanden—including Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin—her hearings were delayed, leading reporters to ask the White House if it would soon be withdrawing her nomination.

In glomming onto Tanden’s tweets (she’s now deleted a thousand and apologized) despite their ability to overlook countless far more divisive missives from President Trump, Republican senators are doing the sort of surface level swatting at shiny objects that we’ve come to expect from the polarized Congress. But if we look at what lies beneath the brittle surface of the tweets controversy, we actually find something instructive: The Tanden confirmation is a preview of what the slightly twisted dynamics of Biden-era Washington will probably look like.

Unfortunately for Tanden, she has found herself pinched in the gears as the power center of the Democratic Party shifts to the left—the rise of prominent progressive figures like Sanders and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez has coincided with a larger proportion of Democratic voters identifying as “liberal” than ever before. Even if the party hasn’t wholly given over to the Sanders view of things (just look at Manchin and fellow moderate Democratic Sen. Krysten Sinema’s leverage over what passes through the Senate), what was once de rigeur political practice (courting Wall Street money to fund liberal causes, for instance) is getting a thorough once-over. As for conservatives, they’re more than happy to drag off the Democrats’ conflict, supporting whatever faction suits their own ideological interests issue by issue, or just generally inserting chaotic “but-what-about-bipartisanship?” energy into legislative debates.

A key player who’s been overlooked somewhat in all the clatter about tweets is Sen. Bernie Sanders, chairman of the Senate Budget Committee, who gave a preview of what was to come on the first day of Tanden’s hearings by aligning himself with an unlikely-seeming ally: “Let me begin by picking up a point that the ranking member, Lindsay Graham made,” Sanders began, citing a letter from House GOP members that outlined a number of complaints about Tanden, including her inflammatory Twitter feed. “Your attacks were not just made against Republicans, they were vicious attacks made against progressives, people who I have worked with. Me personally.” In other words, Sanders, who spent years on the fringes of left-leaning politics—pooh-poohed by mainstream Clintonian Democrats like Tanden—was finally in the seat of power, and Tanden was the one on the spot.

The history of bad blood between Tanden and the Sanders-supporting wing of the party goes back years. She served as a legislative aide for Hillary Clinton and worked for Clinton’s 2008 presidential campaign. When Clinton did a candidate interview at the Center for American Progress (CAP) during that run, she was asked about her vote in favor of the Iraq War by Faiz Shakir, who at that time worked for the think tank’s popular blog (he would later run Sanders’s presidential campaign). As a 2019 New York Times piece recounted, Tanden was upset by the question and after the meeting, according to people in the room, she punched Shakir in the chest. Tanden contented that she only pushed him.

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