Is Biden’s pick for major budget post Islamophobic?

Woman gesticulates

Neera Tanden has been nominated by President Joe Biden to direct the Office of Management and Budget despite her anti-Palestinian censorship. (Gage Skidmore)

It’s imperative that Neera Tanden face questions in her anticipated US Senate confirmation hearing regarding actions and communications that suggest she harbors Islamophobic views.

The matter is urgent as President Joe Biden has chosen Tanden to be the next director of the Office of Management and Budget (OMB).

In the post, she would be responsible for managing the federal budget and, according to one of Biden’s initial executive orders, doing so in a more equitable manner to support people of color and marginalized groups.

Tanden has until now been the president and CEO of the Center for American Progress (CAP).

Concerns about her possible Islamophobia should raise alarm bells in progressive Democratic circles, even though it is Republicans likely to be doing the actual voting against her.


Tanden has reportedly punched Faiz Shakir, a Pakistani American and Muslim, who was 2020 presidential campaign manager for Bernie Sanders.

The incident occurred in 2008 after Shakir, then the editor-in-chief of CAP’s ThinkProgress website, asked presidential candidate Hillary Clinton a question about her support for the catastrophic Iraq war.

Tanden, at the time a valued aide to Clinton, has angrily denied the accusation.

Her pushback, however, is risible: “I didn’t slug him, I pushed him.”

Tanden further sought to minimize the incident by noting her physical stature in comparison with Shakir, a college athlete who played baseball at Harvard.

In any event, the point isn’t her size and whether Shakir could physically withstand the assault she admits in one form or another to carrying out, but her power in Democratic Party circles and evident lack of self-control.

Helping Netanyahu

Tanden’s willingness to help the unindicted Israeli war criminal Benjamin Netanyahu was briefly an issue in 2015. She hosted the prime minister that year and provided him with a platform to address the supposedly progressive CAP and further spread his lies and misinformation.

The event – reportedly pushed by the influential pro-Israel group AIPAC – came just eight months after Netanyahu’s anti-Iran speech in the Senate had stirred considerable criticism on the left and led more than 50 members of the US Congress to boycott the speech.

Netanyahu’s CAP appearance was intended to help Netanyahu and Israel be seen more favorably again by Democrats tentatively starting to express concerns about Israel’s limitations of Palestinian rights and its bellicose stance on Iran.

Tanden giggled obsequiously throughout the hour-long interview.

This indulging of Netanyahu isn’t strictly Islamophobic. But, as most Palestinians are Muslim, there’s a component of anti-Islamic sentiment in hosting such a virulent voice against Palestinian rights and freedom.

Tanden also suppressed Palestine-related content from colleagues that was viewed negatively by AIPAC and pro-Israel Democratic activist Ann Lewis. Today, Lewis is co-chair of the board of directors of Democratic Majority for Israel.

Pulled report

One of the most disturbing incidents of Tanden’s Islamophobia came, ironically, when her staff members were compiling a report on the very subject of Islamophobia.

Their 2015 chapter on the Islamophobia of the New York Police Department under Mayor Michael Bloombergmore than 4,000 words with eight references to the mayor – was stripped out of the final report.

According to The New York Times, a senior CAP official wrote then that there would be a “strong reaction from Bloomberg world if we release the report as written.”

At the time of the report’s publication, Bloomberg had already provided CAP with three grants worth close to $1.5 million. In 2017 he gave $400,000 more.

This provides credible evidence that money sways Tanden more than truth and the importance of beating back Islamophobia.

Matt Duss, who contributed to the report, will presumably remind his current boss, Senator Sanders, about Tanden’s approach to Islamophobia and her attack on Shakir prior to his joining Sanders’ presidential team.

Duss did not, however, respond to an inquiry from The Electronic Intifada as to whether he knew anything about the assault on Shakir. He also did not answer questions about her interview with Netanyahu or whether he thought she should be director of OMB.

Sanders is the incoming chair of the Senate’s Budget Committee.

Islamophobia meet imperialism and Modi

Perhaps the most troubling of Tanden’s many comments over the years came in a 2011 email to Shakir about Libya.

“We have a giant deficit. They have a lot of oil.”

So said Tanden about the benefits of the US looting Libya if the US is to continue “to engage in the world” while keeping social programs.

Tanden has also been blasted for her 2014 meeting with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi. She said she was “honored” to meet him, disregarding his earlier complicity in the massacres of Muslims in Gujarat in northwest India.
That said, Tanden has since distanced herself from previous support for Modi. Her backtracking comes late and is probably an effort to maintain a semblance of credibility, but is better than nothing.
Tanden even says she has talked to Modi about the Indian government’s treatment of Muslims.
Of course, face-to-face “talk” is less impressive than had she specified any criticism she raised during that conversation.


If Sanders votes to confirm Tanden as director of the Office of Management and Budget, it will signal the capitulation of a significant leader of the progressive left to the corporate warmongering wing of the Democratic Party. Progressives in Congress can either stand up to this in-your-face choice by Joe Biden or fold.

Democrats are clearly more likely to accede to their president’s pick than Republicans who are suddenly upset about cutting or mean tweets – including some that are rightly critical of the Trumpian far right – from Tanden. These same Republicans, of course, ignored for years the abusive behavior of Tweeter-in-Chief Donald Trump.

US Senator Lindsey Graham, who stood by Trump’s bigotry and mendaciousness for years, went so far as to call Tanden a “nut job.”

Republicans are apt to vote against Tanden, though for the wrong reasons.

Democrats, for their part, have much to consider. Do they want a person with Tanden’s views and history of assault directing OMB?

At the moment, it appears they really do.




Such is the debased and vacuous concept of American progress. Tanden opposed Sanders when his two key policies were a $15 minimum wage and single-payer health care. She remains fervently opposed to the latter. Look at the evidence: the UK's NHS is one the most efficient systems in the world. It is also politically hugely popular. Support in polls never falls below 70% and is usually higher. That's support for the principle of the system. Support for higher taxes to improve the NHS is also high. To call yourself a progressive and to be opposed to such a tame but rational policy as universal healthcare, free at the point of use, fully publicly funded and responsibly used is an abuse of language. In the UK, Tanden's position would define her as reactionary. In any Labour constituency, she would be hammered if she opposed the NHS, and in many Tory seats too. The famous paranoid style of American politics permits people like Tanden to oppose rational, evidence-based improvement in the lives of the common folk, and still to think of themselves as progressives. She's about as progressive as a black hole. What progress means in her lexicon is the use of American power to secure ever more lucre, as her comment about Libya reveals. That comment was, of course, racist. Stealing the oil of poor people with dark skins in a country much poorer that the US is perfectly okay; they're only poor darkies after all, what do their lives matter? Her willingness to use violence, even if it was nothing more than a shove, is in keeping with US doctrine: we support democracy till our interests are threatened, then we use force (and usually maximum force). This is not progress, it is benighted ignorance and prejudice. $15 an hour and a single-payer health system: those would be small, progressive steps. Tanden is bound up in US capitalism and that is not a progressive system but a system of racism, exploitation, conquest, violence and rank injustice.

Michael F. Brown

Michael F. Brown is an independent journalist. His work and views have appeared in The International Herald Tribune,, The San Diego Union-Tribune, The News & Observer, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, The Washington Post and elsewhere.