POLITICS

Bernie Sanders Asks Neera Tanden About Her 'Vicious Attacks' On Progressives

The Senate Budget Committee chairman also pressed Tanden about her independence from corporate donors.

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) asked Neera Tanden, President Joe Biden’s nominee to head the Office of Management and Budget, to answer for her history of verbal attacks on political enemies, including many left-leaning Americans supportive of Sanders’ two presidential runs.

The exchange, during Tanden’s confirmation hearing on Wednesday before the Senate Budget Committee chaired by Sanders, gave Sanders a chance to vent his displeasure with Tanden’s comments during her tenure as president of the Center for American Progress, a think tank closely aligned with the Democratic Party establishment. He also questioned Tanden about the think tank’s reliance on corporate donations, while strongly suggesting that he is nonetheless supportive of Tanden’s nomination. Tanden, a close ally of former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and a dogged Twitter combatant, has been an outspoken critic of Sanders, his supporters and their more populist policy stances. 

In his remarks, Sanders began by noting that he had received a letter from House Republicans objecting to Tanden’s history of disparaging comments about Republicans.

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), an left-wing independent who caucuses with Democrats, used Neera Tanden's confirmation hearing t
Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), an left-wing independent who caucuses with Democrats, used Neera Tanden's confirmation hearing to address her hostility to him and his supporters.

He added that Tanden had also made “vicious attacks” against progressives ― “people who I have worked with [and] me, personally.”

“At a time when we need serious work on serious issues and not personal attacks on anybody whether they’re on the left or the right, can you reflect a little bit about some of your decisions and the personal statements that you have made in recent years?” he asked.

“My expressions on social media caused hurt to people and I feel badly about that,” Tanden responded. “I really regret it and I recognize ... it’s really important for me to demonstrate that I can work with others.” 

“I look forward to taking that burden and I apologize to people on either the left or right who are hurt by what I’ve said,” she added.

Sanders followed up, telling Tanden that the hurt she caused was less relevant than how she planned to act going forward.

“We’re all big boys ... who get attacked all the time, but it’s important that we make the attacks, expressing our differences on policy, and that we don’t need to make personal attacks, no matter what view somebody may hold,” Sanders said. “Can we assume that as director of the OMB we’re going to see a different approach, if you are appointed, than you have taken at CAP?”

“Absolutely,” she replied. “And I would say social media does lead to too many personal comments and my approach will be radically different.”

My expressions on social media caused hurt to people and I feel badly about that. Neera Tanden, OMB director nominee

Sanders went on to reference reports that under Tanden’s leadership, CAP has received $5.5 million from Walmart, $1.4 million from Google, and hundreds of thousands of dollars each from the banks JPMorgan Chase, Bank of America and Wells Fargo.

“How will your relationship with those very powerful and special interests impact your decision making if you are appointed to be the head of the OMB?” he asked.

“It will have zero impact on my decision-making,” said Tanden, noting that CAP embraced liberal policies opposed by many of those corporate donors.

Sanders’ inquiry about CAP’s funders follows a similar line of questioning from Sen. Josh Hawley, a Missouri Republican, during Tanden’s confirmation hearing before the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Government Affairs on Tuesday.

But unlike Hawley and other Senate Republicans, who are likely to vote against confirming Tanden, Sanders has not indicated that he will use his power to prevent Tanden from being confirmed. The remainder of Sanders’ questions to Tanden were sympathetic policy questions, confirming Tanden’s support for a $15 minimum wage, free public college tuition for families earning less than $125,000 a year, a lower Medicare eligibility age, the empowerment of Medicare to negotiate lower prescription drug prices, a paid family leave program, policies designed to confront climate change, the adoption of universal pre-K, and the tripling of federal funding for low-income public school students.

In fact, any hard feelings Sanders harbors toward Tanden have likely already been addressed behind closed doors. In the weeks leading up to the hearing, Sanders and Tanden met privately to discuss her nomination, according to someone familiar with their discussion. 

Neera Tanden testifies during a Senate Budget Committee confirmation hearing on Wednesday. She has faced questions from liber
Neera Tanden testifies during a Senate Budget Committee confirmation hearing on Wednesday. She has faced questions from liberals and conservatives for her past comments.

The Office of Management and Budget is responsible for assembling the president’s annual budget proposals and implementing the president’s agenda across Executive Branch agencies.

Tanden’s nomination to the powerful post sparked outrage among many of Sanders’ hardcore supporters and former aides, but little formal opposition from progressive groups determined to carefully pick their battles with Biden. 

Tanden has been a leading villain in the eyes of the left since the 2016 presidential primary when she emerged as a leading Clinton camp bruiser as it sought to slow Sanders’ momentum.

After Clinton locked up the nomination, Tanden came to be seen as part of the party establishment’s alleged efforts to weight the nomination process in Clinton’s favor.

The hacked emails of then-Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta, published by Wikileaks before the 2016 election, revealed Tanden’s unfiltered comments to Podesta on a range of political issues. Among other things, Tanden fumed about Faiz Shakir, who worked under her as editor-in-chief of Think Progress, a news site then-affiliated with CAP, going to work for Sanders, and called two left-leaning reporters who worked under Shakir “his spawn.” 

Tanden’s tensions with Shakir, who went on to manage Sanders’ 2020 campaign, dated back years. In 2008, when Tanden brought her former boss, then-Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-N.Y.) into the office for an interview with Shakir, Shakir pressed Clinton about her vote to authorize the Iraq War. By her own admission, Tanden responded angrily, shoving Shakir in the chest.

Unlike many Democratic leaders who sought to reconcile with Sanders and his supporters after the 2016 election, Tanden continued to joust with Sanders acolytes on Twitter at all hours of the day.

And at the start of his 2020 presidential run, ThinkProgress published a critical story about the personal wealth Sanders had accrued from book sales since his 2016 race. The article, and an accompanying video, which Sanders supporters likened to a Republican attack ad, claimed that Sanders had begun attacking “billionaires” exclusively, rather than millionaires and billionaires, since he became a millionaire after his first presidential run.

Given ThinkProgress’ affiliation with CAP and the Democratic firmament with which it is aligned, Sanders argued in a letter that the article veered on unfair interference in the presidential primary by Democratic Party elites.

Although Tanden maintained that ThinkProgress’ editorial independence meant it did not reflect CAP’s views, she criticized the article and video as “overly harsh.”

Regardless, Sanders, whose chairmanship stands to give him considerable influence over Biden’s legislative agenda, has evidently decided that nursing a grudge against Tanden is not worth the cost.

Notwithstanding his refusal to formally register as a Democrat, Sanders is a loyal ally of the Democratic Party. Since first being elected to Congress in 1990, Sanders has always caucused with the party and never failed to endorse a Democratic presidential nominee. He is now a member of Senate Democratic leadership.

Tanden has also received some unintentional assistance from Senate Republicans, whose efforts to make an issue out of her partisan and mean-spirited tweets have already begun to misfire.

During Wednesday’s hearing, Sen. John Kennedy (R-La.) sought to press Tanden about her history of attacking Sanders, but ended up drawing attention to himself with a reference to a foul-mouthed skit on “Saturday Night Live” in 1979.

“You called Senator Sanders everything but an ignorant slut,” Kennedy said.

“That is not true,” Tanden replied, accurately.

Amanda Terkel contributed reporting.