WASHINGTON — A simmering rift within the Democratic Party spilled into public view on Wednesday as Senator Bernie Sanders, the chairman of the Senate Budget Committee, confronted Neera Tanden, President Biden’s nominee to head the Office of Management and Budget, over millions of dollars of corporate donations that her think tank received and her history of leveling personal attacks on social media.
It was the second day of tough questioning for Ms. Tanden, the president of the liberal Center for American Progress think tank, and it underscored the lingering tension between the Democratic Party’s progressive and moderate wings. She served in the Clinton and Obama administrations and was a top aide to Hillary Clinton during the 2016 presidential campaign. The nomination of Ms. Tanden, a polarizing political operative, has drawn criticism for undercutting Mr. Biden’s message of unity.
The face-off between Ms. Tanden and Mr. Sanders, independent of Vermont, who assumed the chairmanship of the budget panel this year, was one of the few moments of potential drama in the process of confirming Mr. Biden’s cabinet. Mr. Sanders wasted little time breaking the ice.
“Now, Ms. Tanden, at a time when the wealthy and large corporations have extraordinary influence over the economic and political life of this country, I must tell you that I am concerned about the corporate donations the Center for American Progress has received under your leadership,” Mr. Sanders said in his opening statement. “Before I vote to confirm your nomination, it is important for this committee to know that those donations will not influence your decision making at O.M.B.”
He cited a report that found that the center has received at least $38 million from corporate America since 2014. Ms. Tanden insisted that the donations would have no bearing on her role as budget director and noted that she had long called for policies that curb the influence of Wall Street.
“It will have zero impact on my decision making,” she said.
Mr. Sanders then moved on to Ms. Tanden’s criticism of him and his progressive allies.
“There were vicious attacks made against progressives, people who I have worked with, me personally,” he said. “Can you reflect a little bit about some of your decisions and some of the personal statements you have made in recent years?”
Ms. Tanden and Mr. Sanders have clashed since the 2016 election, with Mr. Sanders accusing her in 2019 of “maligning my staff and supporters and belittling progressive ideas.” ThinkProgress, an independent editorial branch of Ms. Tanden’s think tank, had criticized Mr. Sanders for the size of his income from writing a book.
Ms. Tanden apologized for hurting anyone’s feelings and promised to take a radically different approach to communicating if confirmed as budget director.
On Tuesday, during her first confirmation hearing, before the Senate homeland security panel, Ms. Tanden received similar criticism — but from Republicans. They spent the first hour grilling her over her Twitter posts and asking why she deleted more than 1,000 tweets shortly after the November election.
Senator Rob Portman, Republican of Ohio, read aloud posts in which she called Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the minority leader, “Moscow Mitch” and said that “vampires have more heart than Ted Cruz,” a Republican senator from Texas.
Ms. Tanden apologized to that committee and said she had deleted some of her tweets because she regretted her tone.
At the hearing on Wednesday, Republicans reveled in the opportunity to drive a wedge between Ms. Tanden and Mr. Sanders. Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, the top Republican on the Budget Committee, said he was not overly concerned with the donations that Ms. Tanden oversaw but brought up her attacks against both Republicans and Democrats.
“Her scorn was not limited to Republicans,” Mr. Graham said. “This is not the unifying pick that I was looking for in this position.”
He leaned into the tensions between Ms. Tanden and Mr. Sanders, dusting off previous criticism that she leveled at the senator from Vermont, including comments suggesting that Russia tried to help the Sanders presidential campaign in 2016.
Senator John Kennedy, Republican of Louisiana, followed up and pressed Ms. Tanden repeatedly to say whether she had actually meant the things that she had tweeted about lawmakers.
“You called Senator Sanders everything but an ignorant slut,” Mr. Kennedy said.
Ms. Tanden denied the accusation and, after demurring several times about whether her caustic comments were sincere, said, “I must have meant them, but I really regret them.”
On policy, she gamely fielded questions on deficits, taxes and the nation’s social safety net programs. She stuck closely to Mr. Biden’s policy views and promised to work with Republicans and Democrats with transparency.
With Democrats in control of the Senate, Ms. Tanden is expected to be confirmed.
A spokesman for Mr. Sanders did not immediately respond to an inquiry about whether he would support the nomination.
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