Feb 24, 2021

Biden's first failed nomination?

Biden's first failed nomination?

Neera Tanden is in peril.

I’m Isaac Saul, and you’re reading Tangle: an independent, ad-free, subscriber-supported politics newsletter that summarizes the best arguments from across the political spectrum — then “my take.” You can can reach me anytime by replying to this email. If someone forwarded you this email, they’re asking you to sign up. You can do that by clicking here.

Today’s read: 13 minutes.

Why Neera Tanden might become Joe Biden’s first nomination failure. Plus, a reader question about which states vote first and an important story about the future of jobs in America.

Neera Tanden at the 2019 National Forum on Wages and Working People. Photo: Gage Skidmore

Texas, how are you?

I know I have a lot of readers in Texas. I’ve heard from many of you in the last week or two. Some reached out to me days ago to tell me you were without power, writing in on your phones from your cars while trying to get warm. How are you doing? What’s happening on the ground? I want to check in on all of you, so drop me a line by replying to this email and let me know what’s up.  We’d love to share (with permission) some of your stories of the Texas storm and recovery efforts in Tangle.

Quick hits.

  1. The Biden administration has reopened a Trump-era migrant facility for children after capacity at other facilities has been cut due to the coronavirus pandemic. It also comes after a judge halted Biden’s no-deportation order and as the number of unaccompanied minors crossing the border hit its highest number for January in several years. (The Washington Post, subscription)
  2. Sen. Josh Hawley (R-MO) is introducing an alternative minimum wage bill today, called the “Blue Collar Bonus,” that will spend $200 billion of federal money (rather than private companies) to boost the pay for low-wage workers. He also said he’d support a $15 minimum wage for corporations with $1 billion of annual revenue. (Axios)
  3. The disaster in Texas is reviving the political career of Beto O’Rourke, who has seized the moment to take back the spotlight. O’Rourke acknowledged last month that he’s considering a run for governor in 2022, and the crisis has opened the door for a challenger to Gov. Greg Abbott. (Politico)
  4. The Johnson & Johnson one-shot vaccine provides strong protection from severe COVID-19 illness or death and may also reduce the spread of the virus according to a new analysis posted by the Food and Drug Administration. (The New York Times)
  5. California may soon begin enforcing its net neutrality laws after a judge ruled against broadband providers challenging the legislation. The controversial new law will prevent internet providers from slowing or blocking web traffic or charging for faster delivery for some content. (The Washington Post, subscription)

What D.C. is talking about.

Neera Tanden. Tanden is a political consultant who worked in the Obama administration and on the Hillary Clinton campaign in 2008 and 2016. She currently runs the Center for American Progress, a liberal think tank. She is also Joe Biden’s nominee to head the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), a critical post that works to execute the president’s economic vision for the country by implementing budgets, studying the private sector and coordinating with regulators across the federal government.

Tanden has been a controversial pick from the start. Seven of Biden’s Cabinet nominees have already cruised to confirmation. Xavier Becerra (nominated to head Health and Human Services) and Merrick Garland (nominated to be attorney general) are both likely to be confirmed this week, too. But Tanden, who has a reputation for sparring with critics on the right and left on social media, has drawn fire from the beginning. Specifically, Tanden has been targeted for her tweets directed at senators now deciding whether to confirm her nomination. From The Washington Post:

Tanden referred to Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) as “Voldemort,” the Harry Potter villain, and “Moscow Mitch.” She labeled Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) “pathetic” and “the worst.” And she declared that “vampires have more heart than Ted Cruz,” the widely reviled Republican senator from Texas.

With a 50-50 Senate split, and 50 votes needed to confirm Tanden, there is little room to spare. Earlier this week, Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) said he would not vote to confirm Tanden, citing her “overtly partisan statements” that “will have a toxic and detrimental impact on the important working relationship between members of Congress and the next director of the Office of Management and Budget.” Democrats responded by accusing Manchin and other Republicans of sexism, arguing that Biden’s nominees who are women or people of color are being unfairly targeted.

Practically speaking, Manchin’s “no” vote means Biden needs at least one Republican, and moderates like Sens. Mitt Romney (R-UT), Susan Collins (R-ME) and Rob Portman (R-OH) have already stated their opposition to Tanden, according to the Wall Street Journal. Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) is still up in the air, and could be Biden’s last chance to hit the 50 vote threshold, assuming that every other Democrat is on board.

“We still think there’s a shot, a good shot,” President Biden said Tuesday.

Today, we’ll take a look at the arguments for and against her nomination.

For our previous coverage of Tanden and other nominees, you can click here.

What the right is saying.

The right is mostly critical of Tanden, arguing that she is more than just mean on Twitter — she’s unqualified.

In The Washington Examiner, Tiana Lowe wrote that Tanden’s issues go well beyond partisan fire, citing the time she outed an employee who reported sexual harassment or how she’s a “derange conspiracy theorist who has blamed everything from Hillary Clinton's loss to Justice Anthony Kennedy's retirement on Russia.”

“Throw in the fact that she's a corporate sellout pretending to care about cracking down on corporations and that she once assaulted a journalist for asking Clinton about the Iraq War (Tanden maintains she merely ‘pushed’ him), and it's pretty clear Tanden lacks the temperament, manners, and self-control to manage the federal budget,” Lowe wrote. “But moreover, and most importantly, Tanden isn't qualified for the job. All of Barack Obama's confirmed OMB directors either had prior experience at the OMB or the Council of Economic Advisers or in the banking industry… In contrast, Tanden's pre-CAP work was all about campaigning and work on healthcare, not budgetary work or economics.”

In The National Review, Alexandra DeSanctis responded to accusations that Tanden was a victim of sexism or racism.

“This tactic is swiftly becoming Democrats’ only resource when defending Biden’s administrative selections and decisions,” she wrote. “As I pointed out last week, White House press secretary Jen Psaki routinely falls back on identity-politics rhetoric in lieu of answering substantive questions about the president’s policy aims.

“Neither Biden’s Catholicism nor the gender of the Treasury and SBA heads has anything remotely to do with the policy issues at stake — just as Neera Tanden’s race and gender have nothing whatsoever to do with Joe Manchin’s decision to oppose her nomination,” she said. “With regular assists from the media, Democrats are being permitted to drown out substantive criticism by shouting that their critics are bigots.”

Conservative columnist Hugh Hewitt defected from the naysayers, instead writing that Tanden should be forgiven.

“All political people, especially senators, should live with the same rules of political debate as the rest of us,” he wrote. “They should not use their confirmation power to protect themselves from online criticism, however hurtful. Everyone draws the line at threats. But Tanden has just clobbered people the good old-fashioned way: with words…

“Because Tanden is smart, funny and quick, she’s capable of leaving a mark,” he added. “I know — I have more Tanden-inflicted scars than the villains in all the Zorro movies and television episodes combined. She has displayed the same cutting ruthlessness on Twitter as she has on set. Which is to be expected. She’s a serious left-liberal… Finally, senators should remember there will be another GOP president. He or she will want their own team — and that team should be full of the party’s best minds, including those who have displayed sharp elbows on air and online.”

What the left is saying.

The left is accusing conservatives of hypocrisy, arguing that they are holding Tanden to a different standard than they held their own president. While some progressives oppose her nomination, there is still support for her to get confirmed.

In The Washington Post, Karen Tumulty pointed out that Tanden has deleted the worst of her posts and apologized, which is more than many others can say.

“The sanctimony of Republican senators is newfound and rich, given how unstirred they were by the most powerful social media bully on earth leading their party from the White House for the past four years,” Tumulty wrote. “Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX), who has declared Tanden ‘radioactive,’ said last June, after Donald Trump tweeted one of his egregiously false conspiracy theories: ‘You know a lot of this stuff just goes over my head.’

She added that Manchin’s stated reason, that Tanden was “toxic,” is “hard to take at face value… Manchin, after all, voted in 2018 to confirm Richard Grenell as ambassador to Germany,” Tumulty said. “He was apparently unconcerned — as were 55 of his Senate colleagues — with the diplomatic skills of a social media troll who in the past had tweeted that then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton ‘is starting to look like Madeleine Albright’ and that MSNBC host Rachel Maddow should ‘take a breath and put on a necklace.’ Grenell’s social media lowlights also included mocking the hairstyle of Callista Gingrich, who was later named Trump’s ambassador to the Vatican.

“It seems fair to wonder whether sexism is a factor working against Tanden in the male-dominated Senate — or, as conservative strategist William Kristol put it, whether ‘these tweets sound harsher to these old guys because they’re coming from a woman.’”

Greg Sargent wrote that the “opposition to Neera Tanden is based on a lie.”

“That lie is the idea that the prospects for bipartisan comity in the Senate, and for good relations between Republicans and the Biden administration, rest in some sense on Tanden’s fate. They simply do not,” he said. “In reality, the prospects for bipartisan cooperation depend, from the GOP side, largely on how much political pressure moderate Republicans feel to support aspects of Biden’s agenda. And from the Democratic side, those prospects depend on how much of their agenda Biden and Democrats are willing to trade away to achieve bipartisanship for its own sake.

“Republicans are not going to suddenly be more open or inclined toward supporting that agenda if Tanden goes down,” he said. “Similarly, they will not be substantially less open to supporting it if Tanden is confirmed. That’s not how the incentives work.”

My take.

A critical part of this newsletter, in my mind, is to point out hypocrisy and double-standards. One thing I try to do is perform these thought exercises: What if Barack Obama did what Donald Trump did? What if Andrew Cuomo was a Republican? How did people on the right react when someone on the left did this? And vice versa.

So it seems worth noting that this story is, in fact, oozing with hypocrisy. Republicans now opposing Tanden’s nomination over bitter partisanship and mean comments on Twitter have, nearly every single one of them, spent the last four years pretending not to have even seen tweets the leader of their party was sending. Not acknowledging that here would be silly, and I don’t take many of the arguments about Tanden’s online personality seriously.

Manchin, too, deserves some criticism. His vote may genuinely be well-intentioned, but Tumulty is right that it is undermined by his past allowances for people like Richard Grenell. Even more, it seems worth noting that Tanden once criticized Heather Bresch, the CEO of Mylan, an EpiPen company, for boosting the price of their pens. Heather Bresch also happens to be Joe Manchin’s daughter. It’s hard not to wonder if the two incidents are related.

All this being said, I think Tanden is still a terrible nominee. And the best arguments are actually coming from the progressive left and populist right.

In December, I wrote a nearly identical piece as Tiana Lowe did a few weeks ago. Tanden is a corporate shill. She’s obscured the names of people and companies donating to her public policy think tank, though we know they include Google, Facebook, Michael Bloomberg and J.P. Morgan. In at least one instance, that cash appeared to make a difference when she removed a report about Bloomberg’s surveillance of Muslims in New York after he donated $1 million to her. She’s precisely the kind of Democrat who I think undermines the party’s appeal to younger voters and the previously uninterested voters Trump turned out in 2016 and 2020.

She has spread wild conspiracies, advocated bombing Libya to take its oil, shoved a reporter for asking pointed questions, and repeatedly tried to bully journalists into spiking critical stories about her. I didn’t include it in “what the left is saying” (simply for reasons of space), but this is mostly the case being made from progressives about why they don’t want her confirmed — a case David Klion articulates well even while defending her in The Nation.

If Joe Manchin and Republicans are going to sink Tanden’s nomination, fine. There is usually at least one sacrificial lamb in every presidency and Tanden is one of the least equipped to do the job of any of the Biden nominees. Let’s just focus on the actual reasons that she’s unqualified and the actual reasons we should be skeptical of her track record. None of those include tweets that pale in comparison to the ones sent by the guy that was running the entire country for four years.

Blindspot report.

Tangle has very few partners because we pick the folks we work with wisely. One of them is Ground News, an app and website that tracks the political bias in news reporting. I feature parts of Ground News’s “Blindspot Report” in Tangle. The Blindspot Report tells you the stories that were undercovered by left-leaning or right-leaning news outlets.

The right missed a story about how South Carolina’s restrictive abortion law was suspended by a federal judge one day after it passed.

The left missed a story about how Obama administration officials allegedly continued to meet with the Iranian Foreign Ministry after Trump took office.

Want to check out Ground News’s bias ratings, blindspot reports or other news sources? Click here.

Your questions, answered.

Remember: You can ask a question, too. All you have to do is reply to this email and write in — it goes straight to my inbox.

Q: Is there any good reason why every state doesn't vote at the same time for presidential primaries? What's the reasoning there? And do states, i.e. Nevada, get to just decide for themselves that they want to go first? Seems...weird?

— Meg, Atlanta, Georgia

Tangle: A good reason? That kinda depends.

As you probably know, since you’re asking the question, states don’t vote on the same day in the U.S. presidential primaries. For a long time now, Iowa and New Hampshire have gone first, which gives them outsized power in shaping elections. Until very recently, the winner of a primary in Iowa was the presumptive favorite, or at least had an advantage, because that gave them momentum in the race — both in the media and on the ground.

The logic for having states vote on different days is simple: if it was just one day, candidates would only focus on the states with the most electoral college votes. By breaking it up this way, they end up “touring” the country — visiting towns they wouldn’t normally go to and speaking with voters they may not normally interact with.

There’s also another reason: money. If every primary was nationalized, then the candidates with the most cash would simply advertise nationwide and wipe the floor with the opposition. Instead, by having states like Iowa and New Hampshire vote first, candidates can focus there and it levels the playing field. This is how people like Pete Buttigieg can compete with a Joe Biden early on in the race, and victories early on can open the door for them down the road. Iowa was, in large part, responsible for helping elevate Barack Obama’s chances against Hillary Clinton in 2008.

Obviously, the counterpoint here is that right now the candidates just focus on who is next on the primary list, and by the time they get to states at the end of that list, the nomination is often locked up.

Right now, there is a war bubbling on the Democratic side to bump New Hampshire and Iowa down the list of primaries.  That’s because Democrats feel that the predominantly white, rural states are not as representative of the party (or country) as a whole, so they shouldn’t get the first, outsized say in who the party’s nominee will be. Nevada or South Carolina, in many Democrats’ view, would be a better first primary state.

Iowa actually ended up first by accident. In 1968, Democrats picked Hubert Humphrey to run as their nominee despite the fact that he did not run in in the primaries. The chaotic convention and protests that ensued set off a major push to overhaul the primary process, and ultimately Iowa ended up being bumped ahead of the pack so the Democratic party could secure a hotel room. True story. The world ended up tuning in to see who would run against Nixon, the media made a big hubbub, and it’s been the same ever since.

New Hampshire has, since the 1920s, had a bizarre law calling for it to have the first primary. Since Iowa has a caucus, not a standard primary vote, it wrote into law that the Iowa caucus would be the first event of the primary season. This allows the two to co-exist, and any time a state moves its primary forward to jump them — they simply follow suit.

As has been reported, Nevada is now trying to write its own law to make it first in the primary of the season, which will set off what I’m sure will be an epic battle between these three states for first in the nation status. I honestly have no idea how it’s going to play out, except that Nevada has far more support from liberals at large than Iowa or New Hampshire. Of course, it’s not entirely clear how this will impact the Republican side.

A story that matters.

The U.S. government released new data analysis, attempting to predict which jobs will fare well and which jobs won’t in the coming years. The analysis was reported on in The Upshot, a New York Times series. The top five most positively impacted jobs were epidemiologists (+25.3% more workers), medical scientists except epidemiologists (+23.2%), web developers and digital interface designers (+10.5%), biochemists and biophysicists (+10%) and network and computer systems administrators (+9.8%).

The top five most negatively impacted jobs were hosts and hostesses, restaurant, lounge and coffee shop jobs (-24.2%), bartenders (-18.6%), reservation and transportation ticket agents and clerks (-16.7%), hotel, motel and resort desk clerks (-16.2%) and waiters and waitresses (-16%).

The report, done by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, emphasized these are imperfect projections. But it shows the uneven impact the pandemic could have on the future of work in America. You can read more from The New York Times here.


  • 55%. The percentage of voters who say schools should wait to reopen until teachers have received the vaccine, according to a Morning Consult poll of 1,987 registered voters.
  • 34%. The percentage of voters who say schools should reopen as soon as possible, even if all teachers have not received the vaccine, according to a Morning Consult poll of 1,987 registered voters.
  • 11. The number of states that have now joined an interstate pact to eliminate corporate tax giveaways.
  • $1 million. The amount of money in damages being sought by Ahmaud Arbery’s mother, who filed a suit against the men who killed her son in Georgia.
  • 85.4%. The effectiveness of the new Johnson & Johnson single-dose vaccine against severe or critical cases of coronavirus after 28 days.

Yes, you can.

Every Friday, Tangle subscribers get a little something extra. Personal essays, insider information, one-on-one interviews with people in the political world and deep dives on issues that readers request us to cover. For just $4.16 a month, you can get access to premium Tangle content. That’s about the cost of a stick of deodorant. Cheaper than most bottles of shampoo. Cheaper than pretty much any single beer you can find in New York or Los Angeles. And, even better… your subscription keeps Tangle independent and ad-free.

Subscribe now

Have a nice day.

Elon Musk is putting his money where his mouth is to solve our greenhouse gas problem. The CEO of Tesla and SpaceX is offering a $100 million cash prize as an incentive to come up with a scalable carbon capture solution. Musk is opening the competition to inventors across the world, making it the richest prize in history. "We want to make a truly meaningful impact. Carbon negativity, not neutrality," Musk said. The competition will have a panel of judges to evaluate carbon capture solutions and will award $1 million each to the top 15 teams, 25 scholarships worth $200,000 each to student groups, and a $50 million grand prize for the winner. Previous incentivize prizes, like the Ansari X prize, have helped accelerate the development of civilian space flight. (Space.com)

Subscribe to Tangle

Join 100,000+ people getting Tangle directly to their inbox!