Biden nominee grilled for calling religious opposition to HHS birth control mandate ‘extreme’

Neera Tanden
White House Office of Budget and Management director nominee Neera Tanden testifies before the U.S. Senate on Feb. 9, 2021 in Washington, D.C. |

President Joe Biden’s nominee to serve as the Office of Management and Budget director was grilled during a confirmation hearing Tuesday for calling opponents of the Obamacare contraceptive mandate “extreme” during a Senate confirmation hearing Tuesday.

Neera Tanden, who currently heads the liberal think tank Center for American Progress, appeared before the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs.

Several lawmakers asked her about her previous tweets disparaging Republicans, many of which have since been deleted.

In addition to expressing concerns about her past comments about Republicans, Sen. James Lankford, R-Okla., asked Tanden to weigh in on her characterization of opponents of one of the most controversial aspects of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare, as “extreme.”

“One statement that you made about people that have … personal religious convictions about contraception, like Little Sisters of the Poor and others, (you) called them a successful ‘political cudgel helping isolate extreme … advocates from the mainstream,’” Lankford said. “Help me understand how the personal religious beliefs of some Americans could be a ‘successful political cudgel.’”

Lankford was referring to comments made by Tanden in a 2012 article for The New Republic, a liberal publication.

Tanden asserted that “[b]efore it was made into a religious issue, contraception was a subject where a majority of Americans were firmly on the side of women’s rights: Most people viewed it as a basic health protection, not a controversial issue.” 

“That’s why it was also successful as a political cudgel, helping isolate extreme anti-choice advocates from the mainstream,” she wrote at the time. 

Tanden told Lankford that she feels “badly” for “anyone offended by my language.”

“I think in that regard, I was more speaking to people who politicized religion, not people who believe in religion,” she responded. “I’m a person of faith myself and deeply respect people of all faiths and all faith traditions.”

Lankford, a conservative Baptist, said that Tanden’s context “didn’t seem to be about people that used religion as a cudgel. 

“It seemed to be that the personal beliefs of those individuals became the cudgel,” Lankford argued. “That’s the part that threw me in that.”

Tanden’s article came at a time when the Obamacare contraceptive mandate, which required employer-sponsored healthcare plans to cover employees’ birth control, was the subject of intense debate in the United States.

Tanden was not only an outspoken supporter of the Obamacare contraceptive mandate, but she also helped craft it. 

Democratic National Committee Vice Chair Grace Meng and DNC Asian and Pacific Islander Caucus Chair Bel Leong-Hong explained in a statement after her selection as OMB Director that she is one of the “architects” of the Affordable Care Act. 

They praised her for expanding “access to health care for millions of Americans, including no-pay birth control for more than 55 million women.”

Lankford also grilled Tanden on her past partisan use of social media to attack Republican politicians, insulting some of them as“criminally ignorant,” “corrupt,” and the “worst.” Lankford contended that some of her actions “seem to drift out of the partisan issues.”

In her prepared remarks shared with the media, Tanden said she regrets the language she used and takes responsibility for it. 

"Over the last few years, it’s been part of my role to be an impassioned advocate,” she explained.  “I understand, though, that the role of OMB director calls for bipartisan action, as well as a nonpartisan adherence to facts and evidence.”

When she was questioned by Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, she apologized for her tweets. 

“I recognize the concern. I deeply regret and apologize for my language," she said. 

Sen. Josh Hawley, R-Mo., pressed Tanden on her contention that “our budgets should reflect the values of a nation built on human dignity.” 

He asked her about “the views of human dignity held by tens of millions of Americans who consider themselves pro-life.” He argued there is a bipartisan commitment reflected in the Hyde Amendment not to spend federal dollars on “government-funded abortions.” He asked the nominee if she will ask to preserve the Hyde Amendment in the president’s budget request next

“President Biden has supported repeal of the Hyde Amendment, and so … I will anticipate how that operates in the budget process. But that is a position that he took in the campaign and has held,” she responded.

On Wednesday, the pro-life activist group Susan B. Anthony List sent out a series of tweets urging Biden to withdraw his nomination of Tanden to head the Office of Management and Budget. 

Maintaining that Tanden is “out of touch with the American people on abortion,” the group took issue with Tanden’s description of efforts to defund Planned Parenthood as “partisan attacks on women’s access to critical health services.” 

Additionally, the group slammed Tanden’s reference to undercover videos of Planned Parenthood officials discussing the harvest and sale of aborted fetal body parts as “doctored videos released by anti-abortion extremists.”

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