WASHINGTON – Neera Tanden has delighted in labeling Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell as “Moscow Mitch”; in the wake of the acrimonious vote to confirm Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh, she cuttingly dismissed Maine Republican Sen. Susan Collins as “the worst.”
And as Democrats wrestled with the 2016 loss, Tanden tweeted her takeaway in a dig on former first lady Michelle Obama's often-quoted political truism: “One important lesson is that when they go low, going high doesn’t ... work."
Tanden, who is president of the Democratic-leaning Center for American Progress and now president-elect Joe Biden’s choice for budget director, has spent years as a partisan combatant willing to go low against both Republicans and left-leaning critics of her former boss Hillary Clinton. Now some of those she's bruised along the way see her upcoming confirmation as a chance to hit back, making her perhaps Biden's most controversial staffing and Cabinet decision yet.
Some Republican leaders have declared their opposition to Tanden — drawing a new red line over Twitter etiquette after years of ignoring President Donald Trump's tweets. Some progressives, meanwhile, see Tanden's nomination as a test of whether the left will challenge Biden, who ran as a moderate, over funding for social programs.
“If she sails through without a challenge (from the left), it speaks badly for the progressive wing’s willingness to challenge Biden on anything," said David Sirota, a former speechwriter for leftist Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders who also worked at the think tank under Tanden.
Sanders has not commented publicly on Tanden's nomination, but other liberal senators including Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts and Sherrod Brown of Ohio have expressed their support.
Tanden would be the first woman of color to lead the powerful Office of Management and Budget. Friends and allies say that the fuss over her online persona is a distraction from her credentials and deep experience with large-scale policy making. That includes her roles in helping Clinton develop her health care plan in 2007 and later as a senior adviser that helped craft “Obamacare.”
“She is a policy wonk first and foremost,” said Lindsay Hamilton, a former chief of staff to Tanden at the Center for American Progress.