Why Joe Manchin Blackballed Neera Tanden

Marlon Weems

Tanden’s mean tweets are only part of the story


Photo: Neera Tanden/publichealthpost.org

The Senate recently confirmed Shalanda Young as the deputy director of the Office of Management and Budget (OMB). Young will serve as acting chief of the OMB while President Joe Biden seeks a replacement for his original nominee, Neera Tanden, who withdrew from consideration last month.

Tanden’s nomination failed after Republicans and Joe Manchin, a purported Democrat, voted not to confirm Tanden, ostensibly due to her previous social media comments. If not for Manchin’s no vote, Tanden likely would have managed to squeak through the confirmation process.

Republican Senators pitching a fit over Tanden’s mean tweets is unsurprising, given their history of bad faith arguments. But why in the world would Manchin torpedo Tanden’s nomination over something as lame as her admittedly snarky — but mostly accurate — social media comments?

Conventional wisdom is that Manchin was so offended by Tanden’s habit of calling bullshit on bad policy, hypocrisy, and Republican bad faith on Twitter, he could not support her nomination. Don’t get me wrong. There were plenty of legit reasons for Manchin to oppose Tanden’s nomination, but mean tweets? At the risk of channeling Tanden, I call bullshit.

Maybe Manchin’s real motivation for blackballing Neera Tanden traces back to an incident with Tanden and the former CEO of a Pennsylvania pharmaceutical company.

She may not be a household name, but Heather Bresch is among the world’s most powerful women. She is also a corporate success story.

Bresch rose from her role as a data-entry clerk for Canonsburg, Pennsylvania-based Mylan NV, her first job, to become the company’s CEO in 2012. Bresch was the first woman to lead a Fortune 500 pharmaceutical company (Fortune removed Mylan from its listing in 2015 after it changed its domicile outside the U.S. for tax purposes). Just three years later, she made Fortune magazine’s list of “Most Powerful Women.” Not bad for a former factory clerk.

But Ms. Bresch’s ascension to the pinnacle of corporate achievement is not without its share of missteps.

When Mylan promoted Bresch to COO in 2007, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette contacted West Virginia University, her alma mater, to confirm her academic credentials — specifically the executive MBA degree (EMBA) listed on Bresch’s resume. According to the Post-Gazette, Bresch never completed the required credit hours to receive the degree.

Sure enough, the registrar for WVU confirmed to the newspaper that while Bresch received an undergraduate degree from WVU, she did not complete the requisite hours for the EMBA Bresch said she possessed. On her resumé.

For mere mortals, padding our resumés will likely result in termination. But before Mylan could disable her electronic key card, West Virginia University (WVU) came to Bresch’s rescue. WVU announced that they had located Bresch’s missing college credits — for classes she never actually took — and the whole mix-up was their fault(!). The school’s officials decided to award Bresch an EMBA — a decade after the fact. To be clear, WVU plucked six classes from the ether and inserted them onto Bresch’s transcript — complete with passing letter grades. Viola!

As you can imagine, the administration’s hocus-pocus act went over like a lead balloon with the WVU student body since they earned their grades the old-fashioned way. By the time the EMBA fiasco was over, WVU had rescinded Bresch’s degree, the president of the school had resigned, its legal counsel had stepped down. For good measure, the university also demoted the president’s communications officer.

The entire fiasco begs the question: why on earth would so many administrators at WVU torch their careers to cover for the COO of a company located in another state?

Maybe the folks at WVU were eager to please because a few years earlier, the chairman of Mylan dumped a donation on the university so huge they felt obligated to name their stadium after him. Or maybe it was because Mike Garrison, WVU’s president, was a former Mylan consultant and lobbyist — who also went to high school with Bresch and was considered a family friend.

Or maybe, just maybe, it’s because when the whole WVU kerfuffle occurred, Bresch’s father was governor of West Virginia. That’s right, Heather Bresch, shady resumé and all, is the daughter of former West Virginia governor and current US Senator, Joe Manchin.

Then there’s the issue of Bresch’s compensation.

It turns out that from 2007 to 2015, Mylan raised wholesale prices for its EpiPen, an auto-injector delivering epinephrine to halt a potentially fatal allergic reaction, from $56.64 to $317.82 a price increase of over 460 percent. By 2014, sales of the EpiPen accounted for 40% of Mylan’s operating profits. Bresch’s total compensation at Mylan skyrocketed nearly 700 percent during the same period, jumping from $2,453,456 to a whopping $18,931,068. That’s when Heather Bresch hit Neera Tanden’s radar, and she reacted with a tweet that probably cost her a cabinet position.

True to form, Tanden called out Bresch’s enormous rise in compensation. She was hardly an outlier; investors have railed against Mylan’s compensation practices. In 2012 BlackRock and Vanguard — both Mylan investors — voted against the company’s pay program.

Why should we care how much money Bresch made? For starters, because of a tax loophole that lets US corporations like Mylan deduct performance-based compensation from their annual tax bill. According to a 2016 study, that loophole cost the government $1 billion over four years. When Mylan jacked up its EpiPen price, its revenue shot up, as did its share price. So did Bresch’s compensation, more than two-thirds of which was in the form of incentives such as options and restricted stock grants.

On a certain level, one can understand any father defending his daughter. But these days, Heather Bresch hardly needs her Daddy to fight her battles. During her time as CEO of Mylan, Bresch racked up total compensation of almost $100 million. And when Mylan merged with Upjohn in 2020, Bresch retired, walking away with a golden parachute of over $30 million.

That can pay for a lot of reputational rehabilitation.

When Tanden decided to call out Joe Manchin’s daughter for yet another example of corporate greed, little could she have known that while Joe Manchin can rationalize confirming Bret Kavanaugh, an accused sexual predator, and Jeff Sessions, a renowned racist, her mean tweets about his daughter are where he draws the line.

Comments / 0

Published by

Marlon Weems is a writer and storyteller focused on the intersection of politics, the economy, and racial inequality. He spent more than a decade on Wall Street, where he managed several automated trading businesses. He began his writing career as a capital markets subject-matter expert, providing insights on capital markets to global investment banking clients. Most days you can find him writing from his home on a small North Carolina island with his wife, two of his four children, and two cats.

Surf City, NC

More from Marlon Weems

Comments / 0