New Delhi: Neera Tanden, who has been picked by US President-elect Joe Biden as budget chief, will mark at least two firsts if the Republicans don’t block her nomination. She will be the first Indian-American and the first woman of colour to serve as director of the US Office of Management and Budget.
But it will hardly be the first taste of power for Tanden, who is the daughter of Indian immigrant parents and often makes the list of the most powerful people in the US capital, from Elle’s 10 most powerful women in DC in 2014, to Politico’s 50 (sharing the 18th rank with two other aides of the then US presidential nominee Hillary Clinton) in 2016.
Tanden, 50, is a Yale Law alumna who currently serves as chief executive of the think tank Center for American Progress, a public policy research and advocacy organisation based in Washington.
A policymaking veteran, she served as a healthcare adviser in the erstwhile Obama administration, where she played a key role in framing provisions of the Affordable Care Act or ‘Obamacare’.
She has also served on the presidential campaigns of several Democratic candidates, from former Michael Dukakis in 1988 — when she was a college student — to Bill Clinton in 1992, Obama in 2008, and Hillary in 2016 (she also worked with Hillary before she was surpassed by Obama as the Democratic presidential nominee in 2008).
For Tanden, working for Democrats is a personal choice. It’s the policies of the Democrats, she has been quoted as saying, that helped her single mother raise her and her brother and give them a good education, when their father went away “for a time” after her parents’ divorce.
A White House wedding shower
Tanden was born on 10 September 1970, in Bedford, Massachusetts, to immigrant parents from India. She has an elder brother, Raj. Her parents divorced when she was five years old and Tanden’s mother survived on welfare for almost two years before securing a job as a travel agent.
During their childhood, her mother was actively engaged in Bedford’s Democratic Town Committee, which is believed to have piqued Tanden’s interest in politics.
Tanden pursued a bachelor of science degree at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), and a law degree at the Ivy League Yale Law School.
It was during her time at UCLA that she met her husband, Benjamin Edwards, a fellow student, while working for the Dukakis campaign. When they got married, Hillary threw the couple a wedding shower at the White House. She has described that moment as a proud one for her mother.
Edwards is an artist and the couple has two children, a daughter and a son.
She and her family are currently based in Washington DC.
Despite being born and brought up in the US, Tanden faced the “go back where you came from” jibe — a common racist potshot — in 2016. In a tweet last July, she cited the experience to explain her opposition to US President Donald Trump, who has been accused of supporting white supremacy.
In 2016, for the first time, I was told by people on twitter to go back to India. They -all white nationalists-sent me images of poverty in India, told to return. I was born here. But they saw me as less American because I am brown. Now Trump parrots them. That is what we fight.
— Neera Tanden (@neeratanden) July 14, 2019
The daughter of an Indian immigrant woman is Vice President of the United States. I didn’t think that would happen in my life time. It’s a beautiful thing.
— Neera Tanden (@neeratanden) November 7, 2020
When she was hailed by Trump supporters
A vocal critic of Trump, Tanden found herself emerge as “something of a cult hero” for his supporters in 2016 when a WikiLeaks cache brought out emails between her and Jim Podesta, who served then as the chair of Hillary Clinton’s US presidential campaign.
The emails included rebukes from Tanden about Hillary’s decision to use a personal email server during her tenure in the State Department — a controversy that has haunted Hillary since 2015 despite having been cleared by the FBI of criminal charges.
According to a report in The New York Times, Tanden didn’t “authenticate” the leaked emails, but said in a statement that their release was “profoundly painful”.
The same report described Tanden “as a loyal but insistent straight-talker and acute assessor of Mrs. Clinton’s stubbornness and weaknesses” in a “sphere encrusted with suck-ups, soothers, and self-puffery”.
A Clinton aide quoted in the report described the emails as a testament to Tanden’s dedication to Hilary, saying she offered “the best possible candid advice she can to advance her electoral prospects”.
Tanden’s nomination as budget chief this year has been opposed by Republicans as she is viewed as “too progressive but (she) has also had squabbles with some within the Democratic Party”, noted a Bloomberg report.
For one, she has often taken on Tulsi Gabbard, the American-Samoa-born former US presidential candidate who identifies as a Hindu, including for her “closeness” to Hindu nationalist groups like the Vishva Hindu Parishad (VHP).
An earlier version of this report erroneously stated Tulsi Gabbard was born in Hawaii. The error has been corrected.
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