Asian American groups mount campaign to rescue Biden’s embattled budget chief nominee.
As President Joe Biden’s Indian American budget chief nominee, Neera Tanden, ran into trouble, the White House vowed to keep fighting for her confirmation, while urging Asian American groups to come to her rescue.
“The President nominated Neera Tanden because she is qualified, because she is experienced, because she has a record of working with people who agree with her and disagree with her,” Biden’s spokesperson Jen Psaki told reporters Thursday.
“She has decades of experience, and plus, she has lived experience of her own, having benefited from a number of the programs that she would oversee, as a daughter of a single parent and somebody who benefited from food stamps at certain points in time.”
“She would bring a new perspective to the role,” Psaki said. “That’s why he nominated her to the job and why we’re continuing to fight for her confirmation.”
Asked if Biden and the transition team had underestimated how much of a problem her offensive tweets about lawmakers of both parties would become, Psaki noted that Tanden had apologized for her past comments during her confirmation hearings.
“She would be joining an administration where, as we’ve noted in here, there’s an expectation of a high bar of civility and engagement, whether that’s on social media or in person,” Psaki said. “And we certainly expect she would meet that bar.”
If confirmed by the 100-member Senate, Tanden would become the second Indian American ever to get a cabinet position as the Director of Office of Management and Budget (OMB) that prepares the annual budget of the US government.
Meanwhile, Asian American groups are calling and sending letters to Senate offices and advocating for Tanden on social media to try to combat what they are calling “structural racism” and “institutional racism.”
Their efforts have been actively encouraged by the White House and presidential transition staff, which remains in place to help with Senate confirmations, along with the Democratic National Committee, Politico reported citing two unnamed people familiar with the conversations.
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“It is incredibly frustrating to watch because we are talking about individuals who are preeminently qualified, but also coming from communities that have been screaming at the top of their lungs to be visible and valued by this country,” Gregg Orton, national director of the National Council of Asian Pacific Americans, was quoted as saying.
Many of the groups being asked to help rescue Tanden’s nomination had been backing her since late last year.
But they — as well as prominent Indian Americans across the country — began to redouble their efforts Friday after Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) said he would oppose her confirmation, putting it in peril, Politico noted.
In addition to contacting Senate offices, groups have flooded social media using hashtags, such as #IStandWithNeera.
A #YESNeera campaign that used the words “Yes to Progress Yes to Women Yes to AAPIs” reached more than 77.2 million people, according to the AAPI Victory Fund, a political action committee that works to mobilize Asian American and Pacific Islanders voters.
The push from the groups comes as a pair of Senate committees postponed votes on Tanden’s fate on Wednesday. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), who chairs one of those committees, conceded that the support was not yet there to confirm Tanden.
“She is being held to a much higher standard, even though nobody disputes her background and qualifications to be OMB director,” Shekar Narasimhan, AAPI Victory Fund chair, was quoted as saying.
“It’s becoming apparent this higher standard applies primarily to nominees of color, and it particularly hurts with historic nominations like Neera’s.”
After Biden nominated Tanden, a network of prominent Indian Americans with personal connections to Republican senators began to reach out to the lawmakers in December, urging them to meet with Tanden and give her a chance, Politico said citing a person familiar with the situation.
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“We’re trying to get her in the door,” the person said. “All we’re saying is taking a call, give her a fair hearing.”
Neil Makhija, executive director of IMPACT, an Indian American advocacy group, said his organization worked with the presidential transition to set up a meeting with Tanden after her nomination to ask how they could help.
This week, IMPACT is drafting a letter to be sent to the leaders of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs and Budget committees touting the possibility of Tanden serving as the first woman of color and first South Asian American budget chief, Politico reported.
“Even as she achieves historic milestones at the highest levels of our government, Ms. Tanden has never forgotten where she came from: a South Asian immigrant family that relied on this country’s social safety net to survive,” according to a copy of the draft letter cited by Politico.
“Going from a childhood of food stamps and Section 8 housing to public service in President Joseph R. Biden’s Cabinet, Neera Tanden has lived the full arc of this country’s promise.”
The White House has insisted that it still publicly supports Tanden, but by Wednesday evening, even chief of staff Ron Klain, Tanden’s No. 1 champion within the White House, was acknowledging the reality of her plight, Politico noted.
“If Neera Tanden is not confirmed, she will not become the budget director, we will find some other place for her to serve in the administration that doesn’t require Senate confirmation,” Klain said on MSNBC.
Key Senate committees postpone votes on Neera Tanden for Biden budget director (February 24, 2021)
Indicating trouble, Neera Tanden’s Senate committee votes postponed (February 24, 2021)