President-elect Joe Biden is setting up his first confirmation fight with Senate Republicans by choosing Neera Tanden — a sometimes-acerbic Democratic policy wonk with an often-partisan Twitter feed — to serve as his White House budget chief.
Tanden, the tough-minded head of an influential Democratic think tank, is a veteran Hillary Clinton aide seasoned in Washington battles over Obamacare and Donald Trump's presidency. Her selection Monday as Biden's nominee to lead the Office of Management and Budget drew swift objections from GOP senators who could block her confirmation, with Senator John Cornyn of Texas calling her selection "radioactive."
"Most Republicans are open to any reasonable nominee by the incoming administration," he told reporters on Capitol Hill. "We're prepared to try to work with the vice president once the vote's certified, but she certainly strikes me as his worst nominee so far."
Republicans have so far refrained from voicing outright opposition to Biden's other intended nominees, including former Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen to be Treasury secretary, or Antony Blinken for secretary of State. Yet they are drawing the line with Tanden, 50, who will be formally introduced to the public along with other economic team nominees by Biden during an event Tuesday in Wilmington, Delaware.
Tanden was one of six nominees Biden announced Monday for his economic team, including Yellen, Cecilia Rouse to be chair of the Council of Economic Advisers, Jared Bernstein and Heather Boushey to be members of the CEA, and Adewale Adeyemo for deputy Treasury secretary. He has also picked Brian Deese to lead the National Economic Council in the White House, according to people familiar with his plans.
Tanden has been an outspoken backer of Democrats on Twitter and cable news channels, a role that is helping fuel the vehemence of Republican opposition. She tweeted "Love it," when Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell was tagged "Moscow Mitch" for blocking legislation to protect elections from foreign interference and criticized Republican Senator Susan Collins for a "pathetically bad faith argument" in supporting confirmation of Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh.
The Biden transition team recommended Tanden knowing that she would provoke Republican lawmakers, said a person familiar with the matter, but didn't want to shrink from nominating someone they considered highly qualified.
The team plans to promote her personal story as part of their pitch that Biden's economic advisers will understand the problems of working-class and poor people and work to reduce wealth inequality. The daughter of Indian immigrants, she was raised by a single mother who for part of Tanden's childhood depended on federal housing assistance and food stamps.
Tanden didn't return phone or email messages. Like other Biden transition officials, she referred to her mother's time on public assistance in a statement she posted on Twitter.
"After my parents were divorced when I was young, my mother relied on public food and housing programs to get by," Tanden said. "Now, I'm being nominated to help ensure those programs are secure, and ensure families like mine can live with dignity. I am beyond honored."