Neera Tanden is back in the mix.
Less than two weeks ago, Susan Rice, who some have called “one of the most anti-immigrant folks in the administration,” was pushed out of her role as White House domestic policy chief.
Just as Rice famously cleansed her office with burning sage in the weeks after January 6, President Joe Biden could have used the newfound vacancy as an opportunity to signal a new, fresh start on the policy front. Perhaps elevate someone similar to former White House chief of staff Ron Klain, who was able to manage the post-primary Sanders-Biden coalition that led Biden to oversee one of the most historic midterm performances in recent history.
Instead, he’s elevating Tanden, who has made enemies not just with the right, as any likely candidate may have, but with much of the left as well.
Tanden has been involved in politics for years, beginning by volunteering on Michael Dukakis’s presidential campaign in 1988 and most recently serving as Biden’s staff secretary, reporting to former chief of staff Ron Klain (whose departure and replacement with Jeff Zients has marked a significant rightward shift within the Biden administration). Between then and now, Tanden has been heavily immersed in liberal spheres, in numerous campaigns, on Capitol Hill, and even by helping lead the liberal think tank Center for American Progress, or CAP.
In her illustrious career Tanden, a longtime Hillary Clinton loyalist once regarded as the former presidential candidate’s closest policy adviser, has certainly garnered years of experience in politics but has also left behind a questionable legacy.
In 2008, while serving as an aide to Clinton during her first presidential campaign, Tanden pushed—in some accounts punched—then-editor of ThinkProgress Faiz Shakir for asking Clinton about the Iraq War. Tanden once welcomed the arrest of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, calling him “the agent of a proto fascist state, Russia, to undermine democracy.” Under her leadership, CAP reportedly censored staff from criticizing the Israeli government; the think tank also allegedly censored a report on Islamophobia to maintain its relationship with billionaire Michael Bloomberg. And this does not include all her infamous tweets against both the left and right.
Tanden had been elevated to serve as a Biden senior adviser, and then staff secretary, only after having her nomination to head the Office of Management and Budget withdrawn. Republicans presented a unified front in their opposition to Tanden, criticizing her for her disparaging tweets about various Republican elected officials (many of which, to be fair, were not far off).
Republicans’ opposition was surely much more high-grade given their knowledge that Tanden’s prolific posting came for all. Senator John Kennedy famously remarked that Tanden had “called Senator Sanders everything but an ignorant slut.” Senator Joe Manchin announced his opposition, saying that Tanden’s “overtly partisan statements” against Republicans and Sanders would “have a toxic and detrimental impact” on the relationship between Congress and the OMB.
Such opposition led to potential Republican swing votes like Mitt Romney and Susan Collins announcing their own opposition. Sanders and other progressive senators did not announce opposition to Tanden.
Given Biden’s recent rightward shift, it is reasonable to scrutinize every personnel decision he makes from here on out. Tanden is no exception. But the experienced D.C. operator herself has reflected, in TNR’s pages, on past shortcomings and growing and evolving from them. May we hope that that spirit is sincere and that she strives to genuinely bring Biden back to the kind of message that has both won politically and remotely resembles the progressive politics needed to meet a moment crying out for fundamental change.