We Have Her Back: Opposition to Neera Tanden Reflects Sexist, Racist Double Standard

We Have Her Back: Opposition to Neera Tanden Reflects Sexist, Racist Double Standard
Neera Tanden speaking with attendees at the 2019 National Forum on Wages and Working People hosted by the Center for the American Progress Action Fund and the SEIU at the Enclave in Las Vegas. (Gage Skidmore / Flickr)

A sexist storm of double standards and hypocrisy is brewing, with Office of Budget and Management (OMB) nominee Neera Tanden at the center, putting her confirmation to lead the government agency in serious jeopardy.

Republicans have launched an all-out bad-faith attack to tank Tanden’s nomination to lead the OMB, the government agency tasked with overseeing the executive branch’s financial decisions. But the argument against Tanden isn’t that she’s not qualified or that she lacks experience, nor is it based on her policy positions. Her professional chops are impressive: She’s the current president and CEO of the Center for American Progress and a former Obama administration official who spearheaded social policy and health care reform. And as the daughter of an immigrant single mother, Tanden has first-hand experience relying on social welfare and knows the importance of social safety nets

In particular, Republicans have taken fault with Tanden’s tweets—like “vampires have more heart than Ted Cruz,” the senator who finds himself under an ethics investigation for his role in inciting the Jan. 6 mob and who jumped ship to Cancun in the middle of historic winter storm Uri—which they say strike the wrong tone. 

The bad news is the Republican tone-policing campaign against Tanden, who would be the first nonwhite woman to lead the OMB, seems to be working: Even West Virginia Democrat Joe Manchin has joined in, issuing a statement calling her “toxic.” In an evenly-split Senate, now Tanden must secure at least one Republican vote in support of her nomination to make up for Manchin’s lost one—a heavy lift, given that Republican swing-vote Sens. Susan Collins (R-Maine) and Mitt Romney (R-Utah) have joined the pile-on and come out against Tanden

Of course, the double standard is striking, and Manchin, Collins and Romney are catching flack for their hypocrisy in voting to confirm several problematic and “toxic” Trump nominees in the past. Remember Richard Grenell, a Fox News commentator and Trump’s pick for U.S. ambassador to Germany, who used Twitter to launch sexist tirades against women, including former First Lady Michelle Obama and female journalists? He sailed through his hearing with votes from every Senate Republican, plus Manchin. And was anyone more “toxic” and undiplomatic than Brett Kavanaugh, who notably lashed out at Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) during his confirmation hearing to the U.S. Supreme Court? 

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The Biden administration stood by Tanden’s nomination on Tuesday and said it’s prepared to push. Similarly, on a Tuesday press call, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) blasted Republican hypocrisy: “I think Neera Tanden would be an outstanding OMB nominee. And for Republicans who look the other way with the nastiest of tweets by their president their leader for now to say Neera Tanden shouldn’t get in because of her tweets is a little bit of a contradiction.”

Feminists fear Tanden’s treatment by the Senate is a preview of the uphill battles and fights to come for several more of Biden’s women nominees of color, such as Deb Haaland, Biden’s nominee for secretary of the interior; Kristen Clarke, Biden’s pick for assistant attorney general for civil rights; and Vanita Gupta, who is up for associate attorney general.

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Roxanne Szal (or Roxy) is the managing digital editor at Ms. and a producer on the Ms. podcast On the Issues With Michele Goodwin. She is also a mentor editor for The OpEd Project. Before becoming a journalist, she was a Texas public school English teacher. She is based in Austin, Texas. Find her on Twitter @roxyszal.