Neera Tanden—president of the neoliberal think tank Center for American Progress and a Clinton policy advisor appointed to lead the presidential transition team—has a Twitter problem. When she isn’t publicly scolding detractors for having the gall to vociferously confront her colorful history as a Clinton ally, Tanden is usually sticking her foot in her own mouth, and doubling down afterwards.
Zaid Jilani, who writes for The Intercept, recently “asked the guy who invented welfare reform for Bill Clinton” about Neera Tanden’s role in its orchestration. According to Jilani, Bruce Reed, former Director of the Domestic Policy Council to Bill Clinton, confessed to Jilani that Tanden was “obviously involved in the implementation” of welfare reform. Tanden, in what has become a signature maneuver, responded to Jilani, denying the claim, despite having blocked him. “This is false,” Tanden wrote. And this is where things get interesting, because Zaid Jilani did not just have a hearsay account of this conversation, he had an audio recording of the exchange with Reed, where he clearly says what Jilani previously reported him saying: “Neera Tanden was also Hillary policy director in 2008 when Hillary vocally defended welfare reform,” Jilani tweeted. “Maybe Neera just likes to work for politicians and policy teams who she secretly disagrees with. Would make for a great sitcom!”
Tanden was arguably cut by the audio evidence, and she returned with a bizarre thread attempting to muffle the damage the recording had swiftly caused. In this thread, she presented what can be loosely referred to as “evidence” in a poor attempt to cast doubt on Reed’s statements to Jilani. She published a screenshot taken from the Note app which read: “Neera didn’t start at the White House until after welfare reform was passed and she didn’t work on it when she got there.” It was signed by Reed and had the composition of an email, with a time stamp included, but it was not a screenshot of an email. After a throng of excited Twitter users expressed doubt in its authenticity, many of them calling her a liar, Tanden returned with a screenshot of an email from Reed, the text reading the same.
Again, Tanden was accused of fabricating the email, especially after it was quickly noticed that these screenshots were likely taken from two different phones. The remaining question is why Bruce Reed would confess to Zaid Jilani, a journalist, that Tanden was involved in the “implementation” of Bill Clinton’s 1996 welfare reform project if it wasn’t the case. During the bizarre exchange between Jilani and Tanden, writer Eoin Higgins also unearthed an interesting paper trail that, according to Higgins, emphasizes that Tanden was involved in some capacity in the implementation of welfare reform, specifically after its passage in 1996. These documents, taken from the Clinton Digital Library at the William J. Clinton Presidential Library and Museum, show Neera Tanden being part of official White House correspondence on the subject of welfare reform—specifically its application.
Tanden is no stranger to the Clinton administration. According to NRI Press, she’s “worked on President Bill Clinton’s [campaign] for new energy policies and health-care reforms”, and in 2008 “she helped Hillary Rodham Clinton campaign shape its policy proposals.” Recently, Tanden was one of four Democrats appointed to the Democratic National Committee by Hillary Clinton who helped defeat an amendment in support of single-payer healthcare. What’s most striking about the cowardly defeat of a single-payer health care amendment platform is that Tanden attempted to later make the case for her support of single-payer healthcare. Kevin Gosztola, managing editor of Shadowproof, writes:
What was evident during the deliberation over the Medicare For All amendment is Clinton Democrats were entirely unwilling to engage in substantive debate about what a single-payer health care system would mean for citizens. Instead, they aligned behind Tanden to push an amendment that reinforced the idea that health care is a right but diluted it by having no specific goals for how to fight for that right.
Health care is indeed a right, but unless lawmakers and allies couple rhetoric affirming this right with actions that fortify it, thereby directly aiding Americans in their fight to gain access to necessary medication and treatments, then expressions of support are simply ostentatious. Tanden’s muddled involvement in the implementation of the Clinton administration’s devastating welfare reform, which impacted health insurance coverage of low-income families, is important to assess, especially as she’s expected to be Hillary Clinton’s White House chief-of-staff. Public tiffs on social media are usually inconsequential, but in the case of Neera Tanden, they’ve already led to one firing, and an illuminating exchange that should force even the most devoted Democrats into questioning the actions and honesty of politicians with such a fickle relationship to the truth.