President Joe Biden has appointed a lightning rod of Republican scorn to lead domestic policy-making inside the West Wing as Susan Rice steps aside.
Neera Tanden, who Senate Republicans and one key Democrat — West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin III — blocked when Biden made her his first Office of Management and Budget director nominee, will step into the role of Biden’s chief domestic policy adviser. She’ll also be an assistant to the president.
Tanden has been White House staff secretary since October 2021, meaning she takes on her new job with an insider’s knowledge of the Biden team.
“For over two years, Susan Rice has helped craft and implement my domestic policy agenda and our country owes a debt of gratitude for her history-making public service,” Biden said in a statement Friday. “I am pleased to announce that Neera Tanden will continue to drive the formulation and implementation of my domestic policy, from economic mobility and racial equity to health care, immigration and education.”
He also touted Tanden’s work on securing “clean energy subsidies” and helping craft “sensible gun reform” policies.
Unlike OMB director, the advisory role on the White House staff does not require Senate confirmation.
Democrats have a razor-thin majority, and with the ongoing absence of Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., getting Tanden confirmed for a position that requires the chamber’s sign-off would have been an uphill slog for Biden. But he has placed her in a role that puts her mere steps from the Oval Office, and she will have his ear on a long list of domestic issues just as he begins running for a second term.
Tanden is the daughter of an Indian-born mother. In late 2020, Tanden said, “I’m here today because of my mother’s grit,” but added their family was aided by “social programs.”
Such comments produced GOP criticism of the then-Center for American Progress president. Republican lawmakers called Tanden too far out of the “mainstream” of Americans’ thinking about the size of the federal government and its spending, as well as the proper role it should play in the economy and on social matters.
Republican senators like Texas’ John Cornyn said they would block her OMB nomination due to both her policy views and her often tough rhetoric on social media — even after they largely ignored former President Donald Trump’s tweet barrages for four years during his term.
“I think in light of her combative and insulting comments about many members of the Senate, mainly on our side of the aisle, that it creates, certainly, a problematic path,” Cornyn said in December 2020, objecting to Tanden’s tweets criticizing Republican senators — some of which she would have needed to support her nomination during a floor vote that never occurred.
Another top Senate Republican, Majority Whip John Thune of South Dakota said back then: “I’m not disqualifying anybody, but I do think it gets a lot harder obviously if they send someone from their progressive left that [is] kind of out of the mainstream.”
Tanden also had previously clashed with Sen. Bernie Sanders when the Vermont independent ran for the Democratic presidential nomination in 2016 against Tanden’s then-boss, Hillary Rodham Clinton.
But it was Manchin who ultimately put the kibosh on Tanden’s nomination, forcing her to withdraw. Manchin, a decisive vote in the 50-50 chamber at the time, said that Tanden’s partisan comments would have a “toxic and detrimental impact” on the relationship between the legislative and executive branches.
Biden later picked current OMB Director Shalanda Young for the job. A longtime appropriations aide on Capitol Hill, Young sailed to confirmation.