Analysis by Chris Cillizza, CNN Editor-at-large
Updated: Wed, 03 Mar 2021 15:47:46 GMT
The White House bowed to the inevitable on Tuesday night, pulling the nomination of Neera Tanden to be the director of the Office of Management and Budget.
That a Cabinet nominee didn't make it even to a Senate floor vote isn't anything new. Every president since Bill Clinton has lost at least one of his initial Cabinet picks. Given that, it would have been more exceptional if President Joe Biden didn't lose any Cabinet nominees.
What is new -- and what Biden and his inner circle clearly underestimated -- is just how much Tanden's aggressive and attacking style on Twitter would impact (and doom) her nomination.
The calculation made by the President and his chief of staff Ron Klain, perhaps Tanden's biggest advocate, was that her powerful personal story (raised by a single mom who had come to the United states from India) and the historic nature of her nomination (she would have been the first woman of South Asian heritage to serve as OMB director) would overcome any lingering queasiness from senators about her past tweets.
Well, that plus Tanden's efforts to scrub her Twitter account of the most personal attacks against the senators who would now sit as judge, jury and executioner on her nomination. And her apology -- "I deeply regret and apologize for my language and some of my past language," she said during her confirmation hearing -- for her tweets.
It didn't work. See, Tanden's nomination didn't fail because of some policy disagreement with key senators or some sort of scandal in her personal life. It failed because she tweeted lots and lots of attacks at senators. Period.
"I have carefully reviewed Neera Tanden's public statements and tweets that were personally directed towards my colleagues on both sides of the aisle from Senator Sanders to Senator McConnell and others," said West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin, a Democrat, in announcing his opposition to Tanden's nomination. "I believe her overtly partisan statements will have a toxic and detrimental impact on the important working relationship between members of Congress and the next director of the Office of Management and Budget."
Maine Republican Sen. Susan Collins echoed that sentiment in opposing Tanden. "Her past actions have demonstrated exactly the kind of animosity that President Biden has pledged to transcend," Collins said. "In addition, Ms. Tanden's decision to delete more than a thousand tweets in the days before her nomination was announced raises concerns about her commitment to transparency."
Ditto Utah Republican Sen. Mitt Romney. "Senator Romney has been critical of extreme rhetoric from prior nominees, and this is consistent with that position," a spokeswoman for the senator explained. "He believes it's hard to return to comity and respect with a nominee who has issued a thousand mean tweets."
The irony of senators citing "mean tweets" as disqualifying for a position in a presidential Cabinet following four years in which the actual President used Twitter to bully and insult his political opponents (and world leaders!) should not be lost on anyone here.
But regardless of the ridiculous double standard being used, the failure of Tanden's nomination does raise an intriguing question going forward: Should people angling for high-ranking jobs in presidential administrations simply avoid tweeting at all?
The easy answer, of course, is yes. If there are no tweets to mine for controversial past opinions about people (and issues), there is far less fodder for the people who would like to see you not be confirmed (or even considered).
At the same time, Twitter is -- certainly among the world of political people and reporters -- ubiquitous. And, for someone like Tanden, her willingness to say controversial things on Twitter -- and especially to attack Republican senators in often personal terms -- helped to make her a prominent opposition figure in the Trump years. (Worth noting: Tanden also served as president of the Center for American Progress, a liberal think tank.)
Tanden's active and aggressive Twitter presence was part and parcel of her high profile. Eliminate Twitter entirely and is Tanden nominated to be OMB director in the first place? Maybe -- but it's less likely, for sure.
This is the catch-22 of Twitter and the ambitious political person. Avoid it in hopes of never giving your critics anything to fire at? Or embrace it and run the risk of watching it destroy your chances a la Tanden?
Given the dependency of the political class on Twitter, it's hard to imagine many future nominees being entirely off the service. Which means Tanden's failed nomination may be the first one to be lain at the feet of Twitter but it won't be the last.