By MARSHA MERCER
On his first day in office, President Joe Biden told White House staff to treat others with respect -- or else.
“I’m not joking when I say this: If you’re ever working with me and I hear you treat another with disrespect, talk down to someone, I promise you I will fire you on the spot. On the spot,” the president said. “No if, ands or buts.”
A few weeks later, a deputy White House press secretary was forced to resign after reports he spoke abusively to a reporter who was writing a story about his romantic relationship with a reporter for another news organization.
“We are committed to striving every day to meet the standard set by the President in treating others with dignity and respect, with civility and with a value for others through our words and our actions,” Press Secretary Jen Psaki said in a statement.
But where to draw the line? What about mean tweets?
Biden’s choice of Neera Tanden as director of the Office of Management and Budget shows how challenging it will be to change the culture and tone of Washington in the age of political warfare on social media.
A former top aide to Hillary Clinton, Tanden is president of the liberal Center for American Progress. She stood to become the first woman of color and Indian American to lead OMB, the office that develops the president’s budget and sets out his legislative agenda.
She brings a compelling personal story and perspective. After her parents divorced when she was a child, her mother relied on food stamps and public housing.
"Now, I'm being nominated to help ensure those programs are secure, and ensure families like mine can live with dignity. I am beyond honored," Tanden tweeted.
But her history of aggressive, political tweets apparently doomed her chances for the OMB job. The White House is considering her for other positions that do not require Senate confirmation.
Which job Tanden lands, if any, will test Biden’s commitment to turning the page and setting a new tone of calm and civility.
Tanden has tweeted more than 87,000 times since 2010 -- more than Biden’s predecessor. And like the former president’s, Tanden’s tweets often have been personal and scathing.
Social media encourages quick and nasty hits. Returning fire with fire seemed appropriate when the president was continually on Twitter to bash his opponents. Tanden, though, managed to antagonize those on the left as well as the right. Progressives and conservatives were her targets.
“Your attacks were not just made against Republicans. There were vicious attacks made against progressives. People who I have worked with – me, personally,” Sen. Bernie Sanders, now the Budget Committee chairman, told her at a committee hearing Feb. 10.
Sen. John Kennedy, Republican of Louisiana, told Tanden at a budget hearing Wednesday he was “very disturbed” by the personal nature of her tweets. “I mean you called Senator Sanders everything but an ignorant slut,” he said.
“That’s not true, senator,” Tanden shot back.
Some Democrats rightly argue it’s hypocritical for tweets to disqualify someone for a job after Republicans ignored the White House tweet storm of the last four years. In addition, several OMB directors have come from the political world.
Tanden said she regrets her tweets, deleted more than a thousand of them and promised a “radically different” approach.
It’s too late. With Democrats and Republicans tied 50-50 in the Senate, Biden must move forward to cultivate a new spirit of cooperation and bipartisanship. He has less than two years until the mid-term elections to get things done. Republicans already are working to regain the Senate and add to their numbers in the House.
No president should saddle himself with any appointees who have alienated half the Senate and much of the House. Democrats hold a razor-thin majority of just 10 votes in the House.
That said, there’s no guarantee ditching Tanden means Republicans will show up waving olive branches in support of Biden’s agenda.
But if the president genuinely wants a new era, he must live up to his own high standards. Keeping Tanden will make that impossible.
©2021 Marsha Mercer. All rights reserved.