The Washington Post’s beef with Neera Tanden

It’s not just conservatives and insulted Republican Senators who are unhappy that Joe Biden has selected Neera Tanden to run the Office of Management and Budget. The Washington Post criticizes her from the left in populist terms:

In her nine years helming Washington’s leading liberal think tank, Neera Tanden mingled with deep-pocketed donors who made their fortunes on Wall Street, in Silicon Valley and in other powerful sectors of corporate America.

Between 2014 and 2019, CAP [the Center for American Progress] received at least $33 million in donations from firms in the financial sector, private foundations primarily funded by wealth earned on Wall Street and in other investment firms, and current or former executives at financial firms such as Bain Capital, Blackstone and Evercore, according to a Washington Post analysis of CAP’s donor disclosures and some of the foundations’ public tax filings. In the same time period, CAP received between $4.9 million and $13 million from Silicon Valley companies and foundations, including Facebook and founder Mark Zuckerberg’s philanthropic organization.

Nearly every quality think tank receives corporate donations (as does the Federalist Society), and think tanks are a natural source of expertise for an administration. The current OMB director, Russell Vought, served as vice president of Heritage Action for America, the Post notes.

This reality may aggravate Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and (these days) Tucker Carlson. But I doubt that it bothers the Washington Post.

If the Post has a problem with CAP’s sources of funding, it probably has more to do with foreign sources than with American corporate interests. According to the Post, CAP accepted between $1.5 million and $3 million from the United Arab Emirates in recent years (but stopped accepting its donations in 2019).

The UAE is closely aligned with the U.S., thanks to President Trump’s diplomacy and his hardline stance against Iran, of which the Post has often expressed disapproval. More to the point, the UAE is very closely aligned with Saudi Arabia.

The Post has a massive ax to grind with the Saudis over the killing of its columnist, Jamal Khashoggi. Post reporters Yeganeh Torbati and Beth Reinhard articulate what is likely the Post’s only real grievance with Tanden in this passage:

After Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi’s 2018 murder at the hands of Saudi officials, CAP put out a statement denouncing the “heinous and reprehensible act” but stopping short of demanding specific consequences to punish the kingdom. . . .

[In addition] an unsigned essay in 2017 welcomed the ascension of Mohammed bin Salman as the new Saudi crown prince, saying he would usher in a “long era of stability at the top” and “economic and social reforms.

This view of the new crown prince was widely shared. Torbati and Reinhard don’t say, much less show, that it has turned out to be unsound.

There are good reasons why one might oppose Tanden’s nomination to head OMB. CAP’s failure to demand “specific consequences” to punish Saudi Arabia for killing a Washington Post columnist isn’t one of them.

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