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Neera Tanden, Nominee To Head Budget Office, Apologizes For Insulting GOP Senators

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

One of President Biden's most controversial Cabinet nominees apologized today for unkind remarks she has made about Senate Republicans. Neera Tanden is Biden's pick to run the White House Office of Management and Budget. Tanden has been a partisan advocate who has not been shy about playing offense. But she promised to work in a bipartisan way if she wins Senate confirmation, as seems likely. NPR's Scott Horsley reports.

SCOTT HORSLEY, BYLINE: Neera Tanden showcased her policy chops working for former Presidents Bill Clinton and Barack Obama. She was also a top adviser to Hillary Clinton's 2008 campaign. But it's not her resume Senate Republicans have objected to. Rather, it's her history as an outspoken partisan and her sometimes red-hot Twitter feed.

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ROB PORTMAN: I believe that the tone, the content and the aggressive partisanship of some of your public statements have added to the troubling trend of more incivility and division in our public life.

HORSLEY: Ohio Senator Rob Portman, the top Republican on the Homeland Security Committee, grilled Tanden over some of the more provocative tweets she's aimed over the years at his GOP colleagues.

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PORTMAN: You wrote that Susan Collins is, quote, "the worst," that Tom Cotton is a fraud, that vampires have more heart than Ted Cruz. You called Leader McConnell Moscow Mitch and Voldemort. How do you plan to mend fences and build relationships with members of Congress you have attacked through your public statements?

HORSLEY: Tanden acknowledged being White House budget director might require a more diplomatic approach than her last job running a left-leaning think tank. She did her best to sound contrite about some of her more sharp-elbowed comments.

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NEERA TANDEN: I do think the last several years have been very polarizing, and I apologize for my language that has contributed to that. I know it's on me to demonstrate to this committee and to Republican members and Democratic members I can work with anyone.

HORSLEY: Republicans might well have blocked Tanden's nomination if they still held the majority in the Senate. So in a way, she's one of the big winners of last month's Senate runoffs in Georgia that handed control of the chamber to the Democrats. Another big winner is freshman Georgia Senator Jon Ossoff, who used his first appearance on the committee to quiz Tanden about the ongoing human and economic cost of the coronavirus.

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JON OSSOFF: In Georgia, as in states across the country, working-class and middle-class families have been crushed by this pandemic and the economic crisis that has resulted from this pandemic.

HORSLEY: Tanden agreed, noting that nearly 10 million more people are out of work today than were a year ago. She urged lawmakers to approve the president's $1.9 trillion rescue package.

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TANDEN: I know that when a family is in distress - how critical that government aid is and how critical it is to making the difference.

HORSLEY: Tanden recalled that when she was a child, her single mother relied on food stamps and federal housing vouchers to get by until the family was ultimately able to climb into the middle class.

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TANDEN: At school, I remember being the only kid in the cafeteria line who used 10-cent vouchers from the free and reduced lunch program. I spent every day grateful for a nation and a government that had faith in my mother and in me.

HORSLEY: Tanden, who would be the first woman of color to head the budget office, argued it's vital for the government to address the needs of all communities. She noted that African Americans and Latinos have been especially hard-hit by the pandemic and the resulting job losses.

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TANDEN: We have to carefully monitor that we don't see the same kinds of inequities in vaccine distribution, which is a matter of life and death.

HORSLEY: Besides the complaints from Republicans, Tanden has drawn some opposition from supporters of Senator Bernie Sanders, a legacy of her role as a Clinton supporter in the 2016 campaign. Sanders now chairs the Senate Budget Committee, which will hold its own hearing on Tanden's nomination tomorrow.

Scott Horsley, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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