The Clinton-Warren Kumbaya Moment May Give Way to Tension After November
United by a common enemy in Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton and progressive icon Elizabeth Warren shared a kumbaya moment Monday before a cheering crowd in Cincinnati, Ohio.
"She gets up and keeps right on fighting for the people who need her most," said the Massachusetts senator. The presumptive Democratic presidential nominee returned the favor: "I do just love to see how she gets under Donald Trump's skin," she said, smiling.
But the camera-ready, arm-in-arm moment between two powerful Democratic women is likely to give way to a more tense relationship if Clinton wins the presidency, according to Warren allies and Democratic insiders.
"Just like she’s been a thorn in the side of the Obama administration, I have every expectation that she would play a similar role during a Clinton term as well," said Jim Manley, a former adviser to Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid. "And that's something that the Clinton folks are going to have to take under advisement. She's become very effective these days in taking on and challenging a Democratic administration when she thinks they're on the wrong side."
Speculation about potential Clinton running mates usually puts Warren on the short list along with Virginia Senator Tim Kaine and Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Julián Castro. More than a third of likely voters backing Clinton in a recent Bloomberg Politics national poll say she should pick Warren as her running mate. But people familiar with Clinton's thinking note that their relationship has largely been marked by wariness rather than warmth, making it difficult to establish the kind of close working relationship Clinton wants to have with her running mate.
Warren has tweaked former President Bill Clinton for overseeing an era of Wall Street deregulation at the end of his administration, including the repeal of the Glass-Steagall Act. Like Clinton's primary challenger, Senator Bernie Sanders, Warren supports a modernized version of the law, which Clinton has argued isn't the right antidote to the problems she sees in the financial sector.
Warren also hasn't shied away from bucking President Barack Obama. In December 2014, she took to the Senate floor to torch a government funding deal that eliminated a provision from the Dodd-Frank financial reform law. A month later, she notched a victory when Obama nominee Antonio Weiss pulled out of the running for a Treasury position after Warren sparked a backlash over his past as a Wall Street banker. In the months that followed, Warren engaged in a public spat with Obama over the Trans-Pacific Partnership, fueling a liberal uprising against the pact.
Her allies expect that would continue if Clinton wins in November.
"Elizabeth Warren is about policy first and politics as a means to an end. In any scenario, she will continue to hold Wall Street and regulators' feet to the fire—pushing big structural reform and accountability on Wall Street," said Adam Green, an activist whose group, Progressive Change Campaign Committee, vigorously promotes Warren and her policies.
But Warren on Monday demonstrated her value as a Clinton surrogate and Trump attack dog, bashing him as "a thin-skinned bully who is driven by greed and hate" and a "small, insecure money-grubber who fights for no one but himself." She even took a swipe at his "goofy hat," re-appropriating Trump's label for Warren. Trump fans have taken note of her. Outside the Cincinnati Museum Center, one held a sign that read “WELCOME POCAHONTAS,” which Trump has derisively labeled her.
The Clinton campaign sees Warren as a key ambassador to supporters of Sanders who has yet to formally endorse Clinton, and other liberals who can argue that Clinton is more than just the lesser of two evils. The power that Warren, a former Harvard law professor, consumer advocate, scourge of Wall Street and possible running mate, brings in rallying a progressive base that has long viewed Clinton skeptically won't come unconditionally. Her influence, along with that of Democratic primary runner-up Sanders, a Warren ally on most issues, has already shaped Clinton’s campaign message.
In October, Clinton came out against TPP, which was negotiated while she served as secretary of state, and which she had previously touted as "the gold standard" of trade deals. At the Cincinnati rally, Clinton promised she'd say "no to bad trade deals like the Trans-Pacific Partnership." She echoed key Warren themes about the financial industry exploiting consumers and took shot at executive bonuses for corporate executives at a time of middle class anxiety.
A key figure in setting up the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, Warren believes personnel is policy. And she's likely to battle the appointment of regulators and administrative figures with Wall Street ties, a common practice for recent presidents of both parties, including Clinton's husband.
"Under a Clinton administration when they think about certain cabinet nominees, for instance, they're going to have to keep that under advisement, they're going to have to factor that into their decision-making process," Manley said. "Especially when it comes to folks they want to pick from Wall Street to join the administration."
Steve Schale, who managed Obama's 2008 campaign in Florida, said Warren will be a force under a Clinton administration if she helps deliver a victory this fall.
"I suspect that Elizabeth Warren—assuming she's not the VP—will always remain a loud and important voice in my party," he said. "The more that Elizabeth Warren is seen as helping unite the party, the bigger mic she's going to have in 2017 and beyond to have opinions on how the presidency is going."
Clinton and Warren have had a cordial but not particularly warm relationship for years, and have kept in touch directly—and through both political and policy aides—in recent months. The day after Warren endorsed Clinton earlier this month, they met at Clinton's Washington home. And, spokesman Nick Merrill said, they met again on Monday morning at Clinton's hotel before riding over to the event together. He did not provide details on their conversation. Clinton campaign communications director Jennifer Palmieri declined to comment.
Warren and Clinton are cut from different cloths—a fiery advocate seeking to move the needle leftward on economic policy versus a Democratic standard-bearer who has been in the upper echelons of national politics for two and a half decades. The prospect of a Trump presidency is enough to bring them together—for now.
"Hillary Clinton will be the next president of the United States," Warren told the Cincinnati crowd, "because she knows what it takes to beat a thin-skinned bully who is driven by greed and hate."
After they shared the stage, Clinton worked the rope line as she usually does, posing for photos with volunteers, and giving a local interview. But Warren was already out the door and headed to the airport.