“What Were They Thinking?”: Neera Tanden and Bernie Sanders’ Inevitable Collision Course

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“How did they possibly pick somebody whose main interface in the Senate will be Bernie Sanders—who’s done all she can to ruin Bernie Sanders politically,” a progressive insider with ties to Sanders told Status Coup about Neera Tanden’s appointment as OMB Director


A lot of the discussion surrounding Center For American Progress CEO  Neera Tanden’s appointment to run the Office of Management and Budget has revolved around her years of menacing Twitter activity (for which she’s feverishly deleting over 1,000 tweets fo far), her role as Hillary Clinton’s top political “loyal soldier,” and history of championing cuts to entitlement programs, the virtues of for-profit healthcare, and hoarding money from Wall Street and dubious foreign governments via CAP.

But there’s been little discussion about how Tanden, if confirmed as director of OMB, will effectively serve when one of the top functions of the OMB Director is working with the House Ways and Means Committee, and the Senate Budget committee— the latter of which will have Sanders either as chairman or the ranking member, depending on the results of the Georgia Senate runoff elections.

“What were they thinking?” a progressive insider with ties to Sanders told Status Coup. “How did they possibly pick somebody whose main interface in the Senate will be Bernie Sanders—who’s done all she can to ruin Bernie Sanders politically.”

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For progressives inside and outside of Washington D.C., Tanden’s animosity toward Sanders has bordered on obsessive hatred over the last five years, targeting Sanders, his supporters, and progressive journalists during his two presidential campaigns and “political revolution.”

From Red-scare attacks suggesting Sanders was Vladimir Putin’s preference over Hillary Clinton in 2016; to CAP’s editorial arm ThinkProgress pushing the narrative that Sanders was a faux populist and hypocrite once he became a millionaire, to Tanden spearheading the political hit-squad against Sanders following his accepting an endorsement from podcast powerhouse Joe Rogan (whose show Biden himself tried to get on),  to playing a critical role at framing Sanders’ political movement as racist and sexist,  Tanden was a one-woman social media Super PAC against Sanders from 2015 through the end of the 2020 Democratic primary.

A former staffer for Center for American Progress, who requested anonymity to avoid Tanden’s wrath, put it more bluntly, telling Status Coup: “In 2015/2016, CAP was a wholly-owned subsidiary of the Hillary campaign.” The staffer added that the think-tank operated as an unofficial policy and messaging shop for the Clinton campaign.

A former high-level official for Sanders’ 2020 campaign, who requested anonymity in order to speak freely, reacted to Tanden’s OMB appointment—and potential working relationship with Sanders in the Senate—with outrage.

“This would be the last person; this person went out of her way—this wasn’t just policy disagreements—to attack Sanders,” the campaign official told Status Coup. “This is an intentional slight [by President-elect Biden], not just on Senator Sanders but the entire progressive movement.”

David Sirota, former speechwriter and adviser for Sanders’ 2020 campaign, agreed that Tanden’s appointment as OMB director was an intentional move by Biden to antagonize Sanders, tweeting that Tanden’s looming collision course with Sanders was “not coincidence.”

Journalist Matt Taibbi also opined that Tanden’s appointment was an intentional snub toward Sanders, calling it a “creative fuck you.”

But another source, who’s had dealings with Sanders for years, told Status Coup Tanden’s appointment was less of an in-your-face middle finger to Bernie and more a representation of the out of touch nature of the corporate Democratic machine.

“They were oblivious to it [that Tanden would be working closely with Sanders],” the source said.  “It’s insane, like, are they even looking at what the job is? They don’t do executive action there [at OMB]…it just amazes me, of all the jobs they could’ve given her,” the source continued. “Did anyone even consider what that relationship would be like [with Sanders]?”

On Tanden, Larry Cohen, board chairman of Sanders-aligned Our Revolution, told Status Coup: “I think the broader question is what is the economic strategy, or is there one, for the incoming government?” adding that Biden and, if confirmed, Tanden, need a strategy that emphasizes higher-paying jobs, renewable energy, and spending money at volumes domestically like we’ve been showering the Pentagon with for “military adventurism.”

“She’s a loyalist, that’s her qualification,” a progressive activist who, like many, has had tense encounters with Tanden over the years, told Status Coup. The source, who asked to remain anonymous to avoid further agita related to Tanden, added that in their dealings with her, Tanden never offered any creative ideas related to policy or budgeting.

“Since when was OMB a brain trust?” the source continued, dismissing the department’s role in passing and executing neoliberal policies of the last three decades. “It’s just functionaries.”

“This is the Democratic [Party] swamp in action,” the former staffer at Tanden’s CAP told Status Coup, adding that nothing in Tanden’s background would qualify her to understand budgets aside from being a generic policy person, which is “a dime a dozen in Washington.”

“She’s built a very powerful empire there that is really a patronage machine for the professional, Democratic establishment,” the former CAP staffer said. “She’s built a constituency within the Beltway among the paid, professional left. It’s no surprise they’re circling the wagons.”

If Tanden, as OMB chairman, and Bernie as either chairman or ranking member of the Senate Budget committee, are ultimately destined to clash, it remains to be seen whether Sanders will play ball and not challenge her confirmation.

Sanders’ silence thus far may represent an overly optimistic—what many progressives would say naive—hope that Biden will heed his public campaign to be appointed Labor Secretary. Thus far, the president-elect has provided no tangible signals that he’ll grant Sanders a White House parking pass, much less name him Labor Secretary. But days after the Tanden announcement, there’s been no public response from Sanders.

Leaving progressives, and perhaps more importantly Biden, waiting to see…

If, and when, will Bernie Sanders get mad as hell and not take it anymore?

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