‘Vampires have more heart than Ted Cruz’: Tanden atones for past tweets

·5 min read

Neera Tanden apologized during her first confirmation hearing for a history of publicly vilifying Republicans, including several of the GOP senators who will vote on her confirmation to head the Office of Management and Budget.

President Joe Biden's nominee for White House budget director told senators Tuesday that she deleted more than 1,000 tweets in November because “I regretted my tone" and that "nobody advised me at all" to scrub the social media account of harsh comments ahead of her nomination.

“I deeply regret and apologize for my language and some of my past language,” she said before the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee. “I know I have to earn the trust of senators across the board.“

Sens. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) read aloud some of Tanden's tweets, including her criticism of Republican Sens. Susan Collins of Maine, Tom Cotton of Arkansas, Ted Cruz of Texas and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell.

"I’m concerned that your personal attacks about specific senators will make it more difficult for you to work with them," Portman said. "Just to mention a few of the thousands of negative public statements, you wrote that Susan Collins is the worst, that Tom Cotton is a fraud, that vampires have more heart than Ted Cruz. You called leader McConnell: Moscow Mitch and Voldemort, and on and on.”

The tweets have “added to the troubling trend of more incivility and division in our public life,” said Portman, who served as OMB director under former President George W. Bush. Portman asked Tanden how she plans to “mend fences” with Republicans.

“I would just say again, to the extent that people are hurt by my language, I deeply apologize,” Tanden said.

Stressing that she was not advised to scrub her social media, the OMB nominee said it was her personal decision to delete her tweets. White House press secretary Jen Psaki also said the administration did not ask Tanden to apologize to Republicans.

"The president wouldn't nominate anyone he wasn't confident could get confirmed and didn't deserve the consideration and confirmation of Senate Democrats and Republicans,” Psaki said during Tuesday’s White House press briefing. “We certainly did not ask her to make any specific comments in her testimony today."

Republicans spent about as much time at the onset of the confirmation hearing reprimanding Tanden for her social media use as they did posing questions about policy, including regulatory reform and border security. Democrats have labeled Republicans hypocrites for rebuking Tanden while remaining silent as former President Donald Trump repeatedly criticized his own party on Twitter.

Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) sought to pin Tanden on Wall Street and Silicon Valley funding sources for the Center for American Progress, the liberal think tank she heads as president and CEO.

While saying she does agree "that corporate special interests have too much power in our discourse,” Tanden defended CAP's funding and stressed that the think tank has received grants from the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, the charity founded by Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg and his wife, Priscilla Chan. “I will always uphold the highest ethical standards,” she said.

In the House, Republicans on the Budget Committee sent a letter urging Senate leaders to reject Tanden’s nomination, raising questions about her tweets and noting allegations of sexual harassment and retaliation at the Center for American Progress.

Tanden acknowledged the distinction between her job as head of the liberal think tank and the position Biden has nominated her to fill as one of the nation's top public servants.

“Over the last few years, it’s been part of my role to be an impassioned advocate. I understand, though, that the role of OMB Director calls for bipartisan action, as well as a nonpartisan adherence to facts and evidence," she testified in prepared remarks. "I would vigorously enforce my ironclad belief that our government should serve all Americans — regardless of party — in every corner of the country.“

Tanden also highlighted her family’s past reliance on government assistance, explaining that her mother decided to flee the stigma of divorce in India in hopes of providing her children with better opportunities in the United States. “We relied on food stamps to eat, and Section 8 vouchers to pay the rent,” she said.

It is OMB that is tasked with making many of the "budgetary choices that reflected our nation's values," making possible her path in life, Tanden testified.

“At school, I remember being the only kid in the cafeteria line who used ten-cent vouchers from the Free Lunch Program," she said. “Within just a few years, my mother found a job, and a few years later she was earning a middle class salary. Soon, she was able to buy a home, and eventually see her children off to college and beyond. I spend every day of my life grateful for a nation, and a government, that had faith in my mother and in me — that invested in our humanity and gave me a fair shot to pursue my potential.“

Democrats have highlighted the outside groups that are advocating for Tanden's confirmation. In a statement to the committee ahead of the confirmation hearing, the Chamber of Commerce’s top liaison to Congress said the group supports her confirmation and that “while we may not always agree with Ms. Tanden, we anticipate that she will have an open door and an open mind as Director.”

“Ms. Tanden is well-qualified to lead OMB and brings an established track record of engagement with the business community,” Jack Howard wrote on behalf of the nation’s largest lobbying group. “Ms. Tanden has proven a frequent partner and collaborator, particularly on international trade issues. Her willingness to consider different perspectives will be important as she shapes the budget and policy proposals for the Biden Administration.”

Tanden will also appear before the Budget Committee on Wednesday morning. Both panels must approve her nomination before Senate leaders can schedule a floor vote.

Quint Forgey contributed to this report.