WASHINGTON – Tension between Sen. Bernie Sanders and Neera Tanden, President Joe Biden’s nominee to lead the Office of Management and Budget, spilled into public view Wednesday as Tanden faced a second round of grilling over her barbed Twitter comments about both Democrats and Republicans.
Sanders, chairman of the Senate Budget Committee tasked with vetting Tanden before her confirmation is brought to a floor vote, used the hearing to highlight his frosty relationship with her over both her personal attacks as well as corporate donations the left-leaning think tank Center for American Progress received under her leadership.
“Your attacks were not just made against Republicans. There were vicious attacks made against progressives, people who I have worked with, me personally,” Sanders said, asking whether she would take a different approach as Biden’s budget chief.
Tanden, who apologized to Sanders during her opening remarks, said she regretted the statements she made on social media. The OMB nominee echoed her apology to Republican senators on a different panel who confronted her about her past tweets on Tuesday.
“My language and my expressions on social media caused hurt to people, and I feel badly about that. And I really regret it and I recognize that it’s really important for me to demonstrate that I can work with others,” she said. “I would say social media does lead to too many personal comments and my approach will be radically different.”
Tanden, who led the CAP for nearly a decade and burnished her credentials in both the Clinton and Obama administrations, is facing a bumpy Senate confirmation hearing as she is facing criticism from both sides of the aisle over her social media comments that sometimes strayed into personal attacks on lawmakers.
As OMB director, Tanden would serve in a central policy role at the White House, helping Biden follow through on his campaign promises like improving the ACA – which Tanden helped shepherd through Congress under former President Barack Obama – as well as overseeing the president’s budget.
Sanders also expressed concern over millions of dollars of corporate donations CAP received during her tenure, citing a report that the organization received at least $33 million from corporate companies like Bank of America, JPMorgan Chase and Google since 2014.
“So before I vote on your nomination, it is important for me and members of this committee to know that those donations that you have secured at CAP will not influence your decision making at the OMB,” Sanders said.
Tanden pledged that those relationships would have “zero impact” on her decision-making as budget chief.
The pair have had strained relations since Sanders ran against Tanden’s former boss, Hillary Clinton, during the 2016 Democratic presidential primary election. In 2019, Sanders wrote a scathing letter to CAP and the CAP Action Fund accusing the organization of “bad faith smears” and criticizing Tanden for calling “for unity while simultaneously maligning my staff and supporters and belittling progressive ideas.”
South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham, the committee’s top Republican, dismissed concerns over Tanden’s use of corporate donations but needled her over her personal attacks on Sanders during his 2016 presidential run.
Graham read aloud one of her tweets: “Russia did a lot more to help Bernie than the DNC’s random internal e-mails did to help Hillary.”
“All I can say is that this is not the unifying pick that I was looking for for this position,” Graham added.
Sen. John Kennedy, R-Louisiana, laid into Tanden over her social media posts.
“You call Senator Sanders everything but an ‘ignorant slut,” he remarked.
Tanden insisted it was untrue, which prompted Kennedy to press whether she meant the comments at the time.
“I must have meant them but I really regret them,” she finally responded.
Democrats on social media were quick to point out that GOP senators who expressed outrage over Tanden’s tweets have largely ignored former President Donald Trump’s vitriolic rhetoric on social media.
Though Sanders was quick to rehash his differences with Tanden, he showcased policies in which he does agree with her, including making public college tuition free for low-income earners, lowering the age for Medicare, raising the minimum wage to $15 per hour, paid family and medical leave and universal pre-K among other issues.