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The Republican case against Neera Tanden crumbles under scrutiny

If Republicans are serious about making the case against Neera Tanden's OMB nomination, they'll have to do better than this.
Image: FILE PHOTO: Tanden speaks on the third day of the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia
FILE PHOTO: Center for American Progress Action Fund president Neera Tanden speaks on the third day of the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, U.S. July 27, 2016. REUTERS/Mike Segar/File PhotoMike Segar / Reuters

As President-elect Joe Biden gradually announces his cabinet selections, Republicans appear to have focused much of their enmity on one person: Neera Tanden. As the New York Times reported overnight:

Republicans said they were stunned by the selection of Ms. Tanden, whom many knew mainly as a hostile social media presence, to head the Office of Management and Budget. Even though many Republicans have refused to recognize Mr. Biden as the winner of the election, they said they were surprised that his team had not checked in with them on how they might react to her nomination to an agency that lawmakers in both parties see as critical when it comes to advancing congressional priorities.

Let's get a few things out of the way at the outset. First, the idea that Senate Republicans want Biden to consult with them on personnel decisions while many of them publicly maintain the fiction that his victory lacks legitimacy is completely bonkers.

Second, no one seems to have any concerns about Tanden's extensive qualifications and impressive background. Recent nominating fights have been over presidential choices who had no business being tapped for powerful and influential roles, but that's not the issue here.

And third, let there be no doubt that OMB matters -- a lot. As Mother Jones' Kevin Drum recently summarized, "The Office of Management and Budget is one of those agencies that's little known to the public but surprisingly important in real life. In addition to managing the budget process, it's also the agency that does things like regulatory review and cost-benefit analysis, which can make all the difference between environmental regulations succeeding or failing."

So, what's the problem? Over the last several days, Republicans have come up with a variety of complaints about Tanden, and they're so pitiful, I'm inclined to consider each of them one at a time:

* Tanden has published intemperate tweets. That's true, but if GOP senators are really concerned about those who publish intemperate tweets, I'd love to introduce them to Donald J. Trump, whose record of deranged tweets hasn't prevented Republicans from offering him sycophantic support for the last several years.

* Tanden is "overtly partisan." Perhaps, but the idea that the OMB director should be non-partisan is a standard that didn't exist up until a few days ago. As Jonathan Bernstein explained very well yesterday, "There hasn't been a non-partisan budget director since the Bureau of the Budget became OMB 50 years ago. The directors who haven't been politicians have usually been governing professionals, some with campaign experience and all with a consistent record of sticking with one political party. And rightly so. The job, one of the most important in the administration, consists of balancing the president's and the party's policy and political interests."

In fact, let's not lose sight of the fact that Donald Trump's current OMB director, Russell Vought, has been accurately described as "a political brawler." His predecessor was Mick Mulvaney, who was a fringe congressman -- and founder of the far-right House Freedom Caucus -- before joining Team Trump. But when Mulvaney's nomination reached the Senate, every Republican but one voted to confirm him, despite his role as an "overt partisan."

* Tanden is "nutjob." That was the label Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) used to describe Tanden this week. Of course, the last person Graham described as a "nutjob" was Donald Trump. If recent history repeats itself, it suggests the South Carolina Republican will spend the next several years carrying Tanden's golf clubs.

* Tanden has been mean to Republicans. That's true, too, but Trump's current OMB director "spent much of his past 15 years in Washington ... waging war against GOP leadership."

* Tanden is an "activist." That was the label Sen. Kevin Cramer (R-N.D.) used to describe her, but again, Russell Vought, before joining the Trump administration, helped lead Heritage Action, a far-right activist organization.

* Tanden is "one of the architects of ObamaCare." This was a complaint raised by Nikki Haley this morning, for reasons unknown. To the extent that reality still has meaning, the Affordable Care Act is a popular and successful piece of legislation, and Tanden's role in helping shape it speaks to her qualifications.

If Republicans are serious about making the case against Tanden's nomination, they'll have to do better than this.