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Who Is Neera Tanden, Biden's Most Controversial Cabinet Pick?


Before President-elect Joe Biden had even formally introduced his pick for budget director, the pushback started rolling in. Neera Tanden would make history as the first woman of color to head the Office of Management and Budget. But she's also been an outspoken partisan warrior, and that could complicate her confirmation process, especially if Republicans maintain control of the Senate. NPR White House correspondent Tamara Keith reports.

TAMARA KEITH, BYLINE: Neera Tanden is CEO of the left-leaning Center for American Progress. She served in the Clinton administration, was a key player in Hillary Clinton's 2008 campaign, and went on to serve in the Obama administration, helping craft the Affordable Care Act. But it isn't her resume that's generating the heat - it's the fight she's waged on Twitter and elsewhere. Texas Senator John Cornyn, a Republican, noted Tanden has deleted a lot of tweets recently that were critical of the very Senate Republicans who may decide her fate.


JOHN CORNYN: I just think she's going to be radioactive.

KEITH: Radioactive. And it's not just Republicans. She has also tangled with Bernie Sanders supporters who see her as too centrist, though in recent days, other progressive senators have come to Tanden's defense. And as Biden introduced her yesterday at an event in Wilmington, the strategy for securing her confirmation came into focus.


JOE BIDEN: You know, I've known for a long time - a brilliant policy mind with critical, practical experience across government. She was raised by a single mom on food stamps, an immigrant from India who struggled, worked hard and did everything she could for her daughter to live out the American dream.

TAMARA KEITH, BYLINE: Speaking after she was introduced, Tanden tied her own experience as a child to her policy views.


NEERA TANDEN: We relied on food stamps to eat. We relied on Section Eight housing vouchers to pay the rent. We relied on the social safety net to get back on our feet. This country gave her a fair shot to reach the middle class, and she made it work.

KEITH: As budget director, her central role would be to put Biden's promises into a budget document that is as much about message as dollars and cents, which she nodded to in her remarks yesterday.


TANDEN: Budgets are not abstractions. They are a reflection of our values. They touch our lives in profound ways. And sometimes they make all the difference.

KEITH: Her compelling personal story may help Tanden peel off a Republican vote or two in order to win confirmation says Jennifer Palmieri, who worked with Tanden in the Clinton administration. She expects some Republican senators may be reluctant to stand in the way of a history-making nominee.

JENNIFER PALMIERI: I have noted that women, particularly women of color, often draw the most fire and draw fire first. But there's no doubt that she is qualified.

KEITH: Yes, Tanden is partisan, passionate and has been publicly vocal about her views. But John Podesta, who Tanden succeeded at the Center for American Progress, says if Republicans intend to block her, they're going to have to come up with something better than the tweets.

JOHN PODESTA: Donald Trump's tweets don't seem to bother them, so I think they might want to try to get over that and look at her for the tremendous help that she is.

KEITH: And if partisanship is a concern, there is precedent. President Trump's first budget director, Mick Mulvaney, was a partisan bomb thrower in Congress before joining the administration. He was only narrowly confirmed, which could be what happens with Tanden as well.

Tamara Keith, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Tamara Keith has been a White House correspondent for NPR since 2014 and co-hosts the NPR Politics Podcast, the top political news podcast in America. Keith has chronicled the Trump administration from day one, putting this unorthodox presidency in context for NPR listeners, from early morning tweets to executive orders and investigations. She covered the final two years of the Obama presidency, and during the 2016 presidential campaign she was assigned to cover Hillary Clinton. In 2018, Keith was elected to serve on the board of the White House Correspondents' Association.