As the Democratic Party struggles with factions within its fold, two South Asian-Americans are key players on the frontlines of the battle to win the next presidential election. For now, the Indian-American and Pakistani-American seem pitted against each other, but possibly not for long in the interests of their own party.
President and CEO of the Center for American Progress, Neera Tanden, 48, the first Indian-American to head a major think tank, and the rare woman to hold such a position. She virtually started her political and policy career in the Clinton White House when she came in as an associate director for domestic policy and senior policy adviser to then First Lady Hillary Clinton.
She went on to become a major player in drafting President Obama’s Affordable Care Act.
During the Hillary Clinton’s 2016 presidential campaign, Tanden traveled up and down the country to rev up voters and committed Democrats to support her candidate of choice.
Tanden was brought up in a single-parent family by her mother, Maya Tanden. She has often written about those difficult days when her mother had to avail of social assistance.
A graduate of University of California, Los Angeles, with a degree from Yale Law School, Tanden is considered a firebrand, and often outspoken even about her own party leaders.
Not only is she a smart political operative, but also a policy wonk having dealt with health care, domestic policy, and women’s issues. She also heads the Center for American Progress Action Fund. Before joining CAP in 2011, Tanden was a senior adviser for health reform in the Obama administration, prior to which she was the director of domestic policy in the Obama campaign. She also served earlier as former New York Sen. Hillary Clinton’s legislative director and went on to become her deputy campaign manager and issues director in the 2000 Senate campaign.
Faiz Shakir, 39, is the campaign manager for Sen. Bernie Sander’s 2020 presidential race. The Daily Beast called Shakir “one of the most seasoned progressives in the party,” when Sen. Sanders recruited him this February. The Beast also went on to say Shakir, “is almost certainly the first campaign manager of a major presidential campaign who identifies as a Muslim.” Sanders is Jewish.
Under Shakir’s watch, Sanders’ approach to confronting the Democratic establishment has intensified. And daring tactics of challenging a Trump 2020 campaign on its own turf have emerged. When Sanders appeared on a Fox interview and faced some backlash from his own supporters and party faithfuls, Shakir tweeted, “I understand why some had concerns about @BernieSanders going on Fox. But if you watched that home run performance for the last hour, you also realized this is the ticket to beating Trump.”
Interestingly, Shakir spent 7 years at the Center for American Progress, helping the organization establish its identity as the leading progressive think tank in the nation, says his biography on the American Civil Liberties Union website. At CAP, where Tanden’s term overlapped his, Faiz served as a Vice President for Communications and was a founding member and editor-in-chief of ThinkProgress.org, the news outlet that today has called out his presidential candidate for toning down his rhetoric because tax filings show he is a millionaire.
Faiz’s areas of expertise also mirror those of Tanden just as their Ivy League educational backgrounds do. Faiz is crediting with advising CAP’s senior leadership on policy matters ranging from economic and domestic policy to national security and civil rights. He also took a leading role on the issue of Islamophobia.
Born to Pakistani-origin parents in Florida, Shakir is a graduate of Harvard University with a law degree from Georgetown University Law Center in Washington, D.C.
Shakir was the National Political Director of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) from January 2017 – March 2019, during which time, he oversaw the ACLU’s National Political Advocacy Department, which houses the organization’s Washington Legislative Office and State Advocacy and Policy departments, the ACLU notes on its website.
He was a familiar face on Capitol Hill where he worked before joining the ACLU, working for no less than the top Democratic Senator and leader of the upper house, Harry Reid. As a senior advisor to Reid, directed policy and communications work along with coordinating the Senator’s outreach to Democratic members and staffs, key interest groups, and press to organize issue campaigns.
Shakir also served as Senior Adviser and Director of Digital Media for House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi, now the Speaker of the House, on issues around LGBT and Muslim American communities.