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A Dramatic Humiliation for a Stalwart of the Clinton Wing

The Biden administration on Tuesday put the kibosh on the nomination of Neera Tanden, a field marshal in the Democratic civil war.

President Biden will no longer pursue the confirmation of Neera Tanden, a well-known if notorious Democratic operative, to steer the Office of Management and Budget. 

“I have accepted Neera Tanden’s request to withdraw her name,” the president said in a statement. He hinted at a future role, not subject to the chance of Senate confirmation. “I look forward to having her serve in a role in my administration,” he said. “She will bring valuable perspective and insight to our work.”

Writing the president, Tanden, who heads the Center for American Progress (CAP), a marquee liberal think tank, said: “It now seems clear that there is no path forward to gain confirmation, and I do not want continued consideration of my nomination to be a distraction from your other priorities.”

The metadynamics at play here couldn’t be clearer: the proudly democratic socialist wing of the party, which this time last year believed it could soon anoint as president its champion, Sen. Bernie Sanders, procured a political scalp after a year of uneasy ascent for the party’s establishment. Tanden is a longtime acolyte of former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. Tanden’s penchant for bare-knuckles bravado, most famously on Twitter, originally earned her the ire of the upstart Sanders movement in 2016, when the Vermont senator nearly picked off the party giant, permanently earning the enmity of much of the former first lady’s entourage. Dating back a little further, Tanden’s controversial stewardship of CAP’s blog, ThinkProgress, and its at times protective coverage of Israel, made her a divisive figure in progressive journalism.    

Sanders, for his part, as chairman of the Senate Banking Committee, didn’t mount an official campaign himself to sink her nomination. He didn’t have to. His allies made clear where they stood, as GQ noted on Monday: “The Neera Tanden mean tweet saga isn’t really about tweets at all. It’s about the left’s new power.”

Along the way, the left’s underground effort gained strange bedfellows, such as Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia. An old-school moderate in a state increasingly enchanted with Donald Trump’s brand of politics, Manchin actually concurred with the reds, evocative of the sort of 2016 energy that led a notable slice of voters to pull the lever for Sanders, and then for the 45th president.

Of course, it was “the left” that was brushed back in the Democratic primaries in 2020. But just when the old establishmentarian Biden locked up the nomination (dispatching with Sanders more easily than Clinton had), the country soon experienced radical change without Sanders, and the old political battle lines were convulsed. Plainly, lockdown politics are a statist’s delight. And corporate America, Sanders’s old nemesis, jumped on the bandwagon of new calls for racial justice with peerless gusto. Sanders supports such measures, but is of course a man of a hard-and-fast, class-based worldview. It’s not the parlance of cold cynicism to question whether a corporate-sponsored revolution has elements of diversion, and is a ploy. 

But in diving into this parlor game, Tanden seemed poised to be born anew. Notably, as she attempted to save her nomination, her acolytes cited her identity. “I represent one of the largest Indian-American districts in U.S,” argued Rep. Eric Swalwell, an East Bay Democrat who ran for president. “How do I look at what’s happening to @neeratanden and tell little girls of South Asian descent that they’ll have the same opportunities in life as white men? The answer: I can’t. And that’s a shame.”    

It didn’t work.

Former Secretary Clinton hosted Secretary of State Antony Blinken on her podcast this week. But the demise of Tanden’s nomination is a reminder how far Clinton now is from power, under yet another Democratic president that is not her. 

about the author

Curt Mills is a contributing editor at The American Conservative, where he previously served as senior reporter. He specializes in foreign policy and campaign coverage and has worked at The National Interest, U.S. News and World Report, Washington Examiner, and the Spectator, and his work has appeared in UnHerd and Newsweek. He was a 2018-2019 Robert Novak Journalism fellow.

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