Neera Tanden came first. She had to withdraw her nomination to head the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) because some sensitive senators were concerned about her items she posted on Twitter.
Now it’s Vanita Gupta’s turn. Their crime: mean tweets.
It seems absurd these days that otherwise accomplished public figures can have their nominations derailed by the pearl-clutching of a party that put up with or ignored Donald Trump’s tweets for years, but that’s the climate we’re in.
At a confirmation hearing, the offending tweeter is usually reduced to groveling, saying they regret their language and taking back opinions that really aren’t all that bad. Gupta, nominated to be the third-ranking official at the Justice Department, has been uniformly supported by law enforcement organizations, and yet has had to apologize for her “harsh rhetoric” in some tweets.
Of course, she was working as an advocate, as president of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, so it makes sense she was forcefully arguing a position. It shouldn’t be something she need have apologized for because that’s part of the job.
That context should be the key to continuing her defense, and the future defense of others who come under hypocritical scrutiny for their social media posts. It’s one thing to behave in an aggressive way on Twitter, quite another in a government position. One person can do both.
Going to a baseball game, someone might drink beer, eat hot dogs yell encouragement at players and have some loud discouraging comments for opposing players or umpires. That same person could then attend a theatre performance, sit politely and applaud at the appropriate time. No booing. It depends on where you are and the expected behavior norms, and Senators should recognize the context.
It is possible that some senators, even those with Ivy League credentials, may not grasp the concept. So let’s describe a couple of scenarios.
Scenario A: I am at a Nats game, in the After Time. It’s the bottom of the ninth, Nats are down by one, with two outs and a runner on first. Ryan Zimmerman is at the plate and the count is 1–1. The umpire calls the next pitch a strike, even though everyone in the park could see that it was low.
Do I: a) lean over to the person next to me and whisper, “Gee, the ump might have missed that one. I hope he reconsiders.” Or do I b) Stand up and yell, “THAT WAS A BALL. IT WAS LOW, YOU JERK.” On the next pitch, Mr. Walk-off does it again and jacks one out. Do I a) nod approvingly or do I b) stand up and yell, “YES, YES. GREAT JOB ZIM.”
Let’s take another scenario. Imagine, again in the After Time, that I am attending the confirmation hearing of Jessica Rosenworcel to be the chairman of the Federal Communications Commission in the hearing room of the Senate Commerce Committee.
Committee Chair Maria Cantwell (D-WA) in her opening statement praises Rosenworcel as “a superlative public servant with unparalleled knowledge of communications policy who will be a great champion of consumers.”
Do I a) nod in agreement and make a note on my notepad? Or b) Call out, “YOU GOT IT, MARIA. GREAT POINT.”
At one point in the questioning, ranking member Roger Wicker (R-MS) calls Rosenworcel, “a tool of the left-wing zealots who will set this country back 100 years who has no judgment whatsoever and shouldn’t even continue on the Commission, let alone be chairman.”
Do I a) shake my head in disgust and make a note? Or b) stand up and yell, “WICKER, YOU ASSHOLE, THAT’S TOTALLY OUT OF LINE. SHE’S FORGOTTEN MORE ABOUT FCC POLICY THAN YOU WILL EVER KNOW.”
Here we are, the same person, me, in two totally different contexts. That shouldn’t be hard to grasp. I’m sure senators behave differently on vacation, say in Cancun, or speaking to a rally of insurrectionists, than they do on the Senate floor.
The next time a Biden nominee gets called out for mean tweets, the answer is quite simply — “What I tweeted was appropriate for my position at the time. It would not be appropriate as the head of a government agency, and I will not do so.”
The Republicans and Sen. Manchin (D-WV) may not like that, but it’s better than groveling and has the benefit of accurately representing reality.