May 9, 2022 - Politics & Policy

Elizabeth Warren grabs center stage

Photo illustration of Sen. Elizabeth Warren

Photo illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios. Photo: Elijah Nouvelage/Getty Images

Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) is eclipsing President Biden with endorsements and, at times, as the Democrats' leading voice on major issues, including abortion and canceling student debt.

Why it matters: The progressive's prominence is pressuring the incumbent president and White House to move left. It's also raising questions about her ambitions, especially as the Democratic Party faces electoral apocalypse this fall and questions about whose voice — and issues — are best to rebound.

  • While Warren has ruled out another campaign for president in 2024, her high profile would buttress any bid should Biden himself not run for a second term.
  • Another high-profile liberal Democrat, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), hasn't ruled out another presidential campaign — so long as Biden doesn't run for re-election, according to a leaked memo from his former campaign manager Faiz Shakir.

Driving the news: Warren took to the steps of the Supreme Court twice last week to stand with abortion rights activists and give an impassioned speech that's now gone viral.

  • "I am here because I am angry, and I am here because the United States Congress can change all of this," Warren said, surrounded by advocates of abortion rights cheering at her every line. She called the court "extremist."
  • That moment, supporters say, captured Warren's greatest strengths: her ability to mobilize quickly, validate concerns by lending her voice to the activists and tie the issue back to the economy.
  • Since then, she's been all over the airwaves, appearing on "The View" and cable news programs to share her outrage.

The big picture: The senator's influence pervades the party.

It extends from her allies installed across the administration to the White House's leftward shift on student loan-debt cancellation, as well as her 2022 primary endorsements and her public appearances in op-eds, on TV and at rallies.

  • Last month, Warren had a blunt message for her party: Democrats will lose in 2022 "if we fail to use the months remaining ... to deliver on more of our agenda," she wrote in a New York Times op-ed.
  • She's installed a roster of protégés across the administration who share her goals of aggressive oversight of big banks and other corporations, and the risks she sees looming on Wall Street.
  • That's resulted in a network across the Treasury Department, the Department of Education and the National Security Council, plus senior positions at the Democratic National Committee.

Between the lines: Critics worry Warren's "personnel-is-policy" mentality has moved the administration too far left.

  • She's been vocal on taxing billionaires, banning members of Congress from trading stock and canceling student loans — which, she frequently reminds Americans, can be done by the president alone.
  • The White House has moved toward her on this issue, from initially agreeing to extend the pause on loan repayments until the end of the summer, to now considering a plan to forgive somewhere between $10,000 and $50,000 per student.
  • Warren's even set up a student-debt war room, armed with data on the demographics of student loan borrowers.

What they're saying: "She doesn’t run wildly into every battle," said Adam Green, co-founder of the Progressive Change Campaign Committee and an adviser to Warren in 2020.

"She picks areas where she can truly a make a difference and engages strategically."

  • Warren is "able to offer an emotionally resonant critique of power structures in a way that people can understand," Green added.
  • Warren's spokesperson Alex Sarabia told Axios: "The economy under President Biden and the Democratic Congress has created over 8 million new jobs, and Sen. Warren is working every day to help advance the party's agenda to support working families — including by fighting inflation driven by corporate price gouging."

By the numbers: Polling backs up the Warren agenda on many of these issues.

  • A Data for Progress poll found a majority of voters believe corporate price gouging is most responsible for rising costs, and that it's among the best messaging for Democrats to win over voters when addressing inflation concerns.
  • Nearly 60% of young voters said they're more likely to vote for a Democratic congressional candidate this fall, if Biden were to eliminate some or all of federal student loan debt.
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