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Elizabeth Warren was leading contender early on for the 2016 Democratic nomination, based in large part on her strident anti-corporate rhetoric and progressive views. Even after several months of stating she did not intend to run, she continued to receive significant attention from the press and progressive activists, although more recently there has been little discussion of a possible Warren run in 2016.
After a long career in academia, Warren became a favorite of progressive activists through her championing of a new federal agency intended to help protect consumers from lenders. After being passed over to head the new agency, she returned to Massachusetts, where she had previously taught law at Harvard, to run for the U.S. Senate.
Warren has made her criticism of corporate America the centerpiece of her political career, routinely lambasting businesses she sees as engaging in conduct that damages American workers. Wall Street and the banking industry have been particular targets of her ire, and she claimed to have created the “intellectual foundation” for the Occupy Wall Street movement and said she supported its efforts.
With only two years in office, Warren would bring one of the lightest resumes to the nomination contest in recent memory, although she has served just as long in the U.S. Senate as Barack Obama had before launching his candidacy in 2007. Her legislative achievements are scarce. The first bill she introduced, which would have required the federal government to lend to students at the same interest rate as the Federal Reserve lends to banks, was not taken seriously by most. She appeals to most major constituencies in the party, with the exception of the pro-business wing that will likely be turned off by her anti-corporate tone.
While Warren seems unlikely to run at this late date, it should not be ruled out entirely. The situation most likely to draw her into the race would include a significant collapse in support and even the withdrawal of frontrunner Hillary Clinton, or a similarly major collapse for her current progressive challenger, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders. Absent either (or both) of these two possibilities, there is very little chance Warren will run in 2016.
Sen. Warren has praised the Supreme Court’s decision in Obergefell v. Hodges, stating that the opinion “sits squarely within both text and tradition” of the Constitution.1 She has been a fierce critic of the Court’s Citizens United v. FEC decision, asserting that “democracy is in real danger” as a result of the ruling.2 She has called for a constitutional amendment to overturn the Court’s decision.3
Warren supports the Court’s Roe v. Wade decision, and targeted her 2012 election opponent, Republican Sen. Scott Brown, for criticism, saying he represented a threat to overturn Roe.4
Elizabeth Warren (née Herring) was born on June 22, 1949, in Oklahoma City, the fourth child of parents Donald Jones Herring and Pauline Reed Herring.
Warren grew up in what she would later describe as “on the ragged edge of the middle class.” Her father Donald, a janitor, suffered a heart attack when Warren was 12 years old. The ensuing medical bills and limited family income led to some financial hardship in the home, prompting Warren to begin working at age 13, waiting tables in her aunt’s Mexican restaurant.
An exceptional student from an early age, Warren graduated from Northwest Classen High School in Oklahoma City at the age of 16. She was a champion debater, claiming the title of “Oklahoma’s top high-school debater” and winning a full debate scholarship to George Washington University.
After two years of study at GWU, Warren left the university to marry her high school sweetheart, Jim Warren, an engineer and mathematician at NASA. The couple moved to Houston, where Warren completed her undergraduate degree in speech pathology and audiology at the University of Houston.
Following graduation from UH, Warren taught special-needs student in the Houston area.
Warren and her husband moved to New Jersey, where she continued to teach special-needs students. Warren enrolled at the Rutgers School of Law in Newark, N.J., and earned her Juris Doctor in 1976.
She and Jim Warren divorced in 1978. Warren remarried in 1980 to Harvard Law professor Bruce Mann.
Warren taught law at several universities, including the Rutgers School of Law–Newark from 1977–1978, the University of Houston Law Center from 1978 to 1983, and the University of Texas School of Law from 1981 to 1987, the University of Pennsylvania Law School in 1987 to 1992, and finally in 1992 she went to teach at Harvard Law School.
Warren was appointed by U.S. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) to chair the five-member Congressional Oversight Panel created by the Emergency Economic Stabilization Act. During her tenure Warren and the panel released reports on foreclosure mitigation, consumer and small business lending, commercial real estate, AIG, bank stress tests, the impact of the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP) on the financial markets, government guarantees, the automotive industry, and other topics.
She helped design the creation of such an institution as part of the 2010 Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act. Following the passage and enactment of the law, Warren was appointed as Assistant to the President and Special Advisor to the Secretary of the Treasury on the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, overseeing the setting up of the new agency.
Warren announced her candidacy for the U.S. Senate in Massachusetts on Sept. 14, 2011, challenging incumbent Republican Sen. Scott Brown. Brown had won the Senate seat formerly held by long-serving Democrat Sen. Ted Kennedy in a special election in 2010, following Kennedy’s death.
Warren defeated Scott Brown on November 6, 2012, taking 53.7 percent of the vote.
In her career, Warren has had two major, controversial incidents that called her ethics and honesty into question.
In 1989 Warren published the book As We Forgive Our Debtors: Bankruptcy and Consumer Credit in America, along with co-authors Theresa A. Sullivan and Jay Lawrence Westbrook.5 Critics charged the trio of authors with academic misconduct, specifically mischaracterizations of the data and unsubstantiated conclusions. Because Warren and her co-authors did not follow conventional National Science Foundation practices in documenting their data, they were subsequently unable to produce for verification the raw data on which they based their findings.6 Leading bankruptcy expert and Rutgers Law School Professor Philip Shuchman authored a scathing criticism of the book, writing:
“This book contains so much exaggeration, so many questionable ploys, and so many incorrect statements that it would be well to check the accuracy of their raw data, as old as it is. But the authors arranged matters so that they could not provide access to the computer printouts by case, with the corresponding bankruptcy court file numbers, thus preventing any independent check of the raw data in the files from which they took their information.”
Her 2001 and 2009 papers on medical bankruptcies were also met with credible complaints of serious methodological flaws and spurious conclusions.7
During her 2012 campaign for U.S. Senate, it was revealed that Warren’s employment at Harvard Law School and at the University of Pennsylvania had been listed as a minority hire, based on Warren’s claims of possessing 1/32nd Cherokee heritage.8 After initially claiming not to know why Harvard was promoting her as Native American,9 and claiming she had only learned of this by reading it in newspapers,10 Warren admitted that she had listed herself on the Minority Law Teacher list in the American Association of Law Schools’ Law Directory out of a desire to meet other Native Americans:
“I listed myself in the directory in the hopes that it might mean that I would be invited to a luncheon, a group something that might happen with people who are like I am. Nothing like that ever happened, that was clearly not the use for it and so I stopped checking it off.”11
A detailed investigation by a group of Cherokee genealogists found no evidence to substantiate Warren’s claims of possessing Cherokee or any other Native American heritage.12
Warren had further claimed that her grandparents were compelled to elope because of hostility from her grandfather’s family to her grandmother’s Cherokee and Delaware heritage.”13 Further research from Cherokee genealogists revealed a marriage announcement in the newspaper establishing that Warren’s grandparents were married in a church close to their hometown by a prominent pastor.14
Despite the evidence to the contrary, Warren stands by the claims.15
Warren has largely remained consistent to the progressive values and principles she espoused during her campaign and in her years as an academic. She has, however, advocated for the repeal of the medical device tax that was part of Obamacare, which is not surprising in light of the fact that Massachusetts has a significant medical device industry but does run contrary to her anti-corporate rhetoric.16 Warren announced her support for repealing the medical device tax during her campaign for the U.S. Senate in 2012.
Despite routinely railing against corporate welfare, Warren voted to reauthorize the Export-Import Bank, which primarily benefits large U.S. corporations such as Boeing and General Electric.17
In her time in the Senate, Warren has also bucked the wishes of Democratic President Barack Obama and Senate Democrat leadership.
Warren led opposition to Obama’s nomination of Antonio Weiss for a post in the Treasury Department. Weiss had previously been an investment banker at the Wall Street firm Lazard, and Warren opposed the notion of nominating a Wall Street executive to an important government financial post. She was able to create enough opposition to Weiss’s nomination that Weiss opted to withdraw himself from consideration.18
Warren is generally regarded as an exceptional communicator.
In high school she won the title of “Oklahoma’s top high-school debater,” and she earned a full-ride debate scholarship to George Washington University.19 Her rhetorical prowess landed her a prominent speaking slot at the 2012 Democratic National Convention, immediately preceding former President Bill Clinton.20
She has appeared regularly on radio and TV news programs, as well as other more mainstream TV programs like Dr. Phil. She appeared in the documentaries Maxed Out and Michael Moore’s Capitalism: A Love Story.21
YouTube videos of Warren’s speaking and media appearances have proved popular with supporters, with some accumulating tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands, and, in a few cases, more than 1 million views.22 23
Since joining the Senate in 2012, Warren has not managed many significant legislative victories. Most of Warren’s achievements have come in the form of scuttling congressional action she opposes, such as the nomination of Wall Street investment banker Antonio Weiss to a post in the Treasury Department, and organizing opposition to legislation that would have relaxed Dodd-Frank regulations on banks.24
She played a key role in shaping the creation of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, serving as an Assistant to the President and Special Advisor to the Secretary of the Treasury on the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) for the purpose of setting up the new CFPB.25
Warren’s only electoral victory came in a heavily Democratic state — Massachusetts — but it did come over a sitting incumbent Republican, Senator Scott Brown. Brown had previously shocked the political world by winning the 2010 special election to fill the vacancy left by the death of long-serving Democratic Sen. Ted Kennedy, defeating sitting Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Coakley.
Despite Democrats outnumbering Republicans in the Bay State by three to one,26 Warren only captured 53.7 percent of the vote against Brown in a presidential election year.27 For comparison, Sen. John Kerry won 65.8 percent of the vote in winning reelection in 2008.28
Warren lacks a reputation for being a coalition builder. Most of her political efforts have been consigned to the Democratic side of the aisle, such as her opposition to Weiss’ nomination to a Treasury Department office. Her coalition to oppose this nomination by Obama in the Democrat-controlled senate only expanded to uniting liberal Democrats like Illinois Sen. Dick Durbin with conservative Democrats like West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin.29
Warren has become a leader in the progressive movement as a result of her speaking prowess and commitment to hard-left values. In December 2014, more than 300 former Obama campaign staffers signed a letter urging her to run for president.
Warren has been a generally consistent advocate for increased taxes during her time in the Senate. She co-sponsored a bill eliminating tax credits for companies that move operations overseas, and creating tax credits for companies who move their operations back to the United States from other countries.30
Additionally, she advocated for ending the Bush tax cuts for individuals who make more than $250,000 a year.31 She is a co-sponsor in the Senate of the so-called “Buffett Rule,” which would impose a 30 percent effective minimum tax on incomes over $1 million a year, including capital gains income.32
Although a supporter of Obamacare, Warren has voted in favor of repealing the law’s medical device tax, an issue that generally has bipartisan agreement.33
Warren has consistently been an advocate for increased government regulation of Wall Street and the financial sector, supporting and helping to shape parts of the Dodd-Frank Wall Street regulation bill. While in the Senate, Warren spearheaded opposition to legislation that would have weakened or reversed some of the regulations placed on banks by Dodd-Frank.34
Warren has called for some measures that would simplify regulations that govern small businesses, community banks and credit unions.35 She favors allowing the Federal Communications Commission to regulate the Internet under a policy known as net neutrality.36
She has called for hikes in the minimum wage, urging President Obama to use executive action to require federal contractors to pay at least $15 to all employees37 and suggesting the minimum wage would be $22 an hour if it had kept up with productivity growth.38
Warren is a supporter of the Employee Free Choice Act, or card check, a measure to remove the requirement for a vote in order to organize a labor union, and a major priority of organized labor.39
Energy & Environment
Warren has been an opponent of hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, saying that she wants to see that the industry can meet clean water regulations and fully disclose the chemicals that are used in the process.40
Similarly, she has voted in opposition to a bill that would build the Keystone XL pipeline to bring crude oil retrieved through the process of fracking down to Gulf Coast refineries from Canada’s oil sands.41 Warren has also signed on to a letter to President Obama opposing increasing liquid natural gas exports.42
And, while supporting the idea of cap-and-trade legislation, she believes that it is not the only solution to addressing the problem of global warming.45
Warren has called for ending subsidies for oil and gas companies46 while supporting increased funding for alternative and “clean” energy sources.47 She co-sponsored a bill that would allow a 30 percent tax credit on offshore wind facilities.48
Budget & Spending
In her 2012 Senate campaign, Warren supported increased public spending as a way to help stimulate economic growth.49
An area where Warren does clearly support cutting spending is targeted cuts to defense spending. She acknowledged that “sequestration” would not be good for Massachusetts and said it is possible to make defense spending cuts in a targeted way.50
Warren does not support a balanced budget amendment to the Constitution.51
Warren has little record on the issue of privatization, although she has opposed any privatization of Medicare and likely opposes other privatization as well.52
Warren is a supporter of Obamacare, having repeatedly voted against bills to defund or repeal the law.53 She has been cagey on support for a single-payer health care system, saying that she supported Obamacare and that needed to be the focus for the future.54
Additionally, she was a co-sponsor of a bill that would require the Department of Health and Human Services to review any and all premium increases made by private insurance companies before they would be allowed.55 She also supports allowing Medicare to directly negotiate prices for the Part D prescription drug program,56 which many fear will lead to price controls on medicines.
Entitlements & Welfare
Warren has advocated for expanding Social Security.57 She has opposed efforts to make changes to Medicare by raising the retirement age, privatizing parts of the program, or instituting a premium support system.58
She is also a signatory to a letter urging Congress not to accept any changes in eligibility requirements for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), commonly known as food stamps.59
Warren opposes free trade. She asserts that free trade agreements cause damage to the U.S. economy. Targeting NAFTA, she says the agreement has resulted in disastrous implications that left entire cities, like Detroit, in shambles.60
She has opposed the Korean Free Trade Agreement and the Trans-Pacific Partnership,61 and she supports trade laws that include standards for labor and environmental conditions that few developing countries are able to accept.62
Warren supported and voted for the 2013 compromise immigration reform bill in the Senate that allowed illegal immigrants to be grated “registered provisional immigrant” status, valid for six years.63 She has also voted against a bill to construct an additional 700 miles of border fence along the U.S./Mexico border.64
Warren is a proponent of ending agriculture subsidies, calling for their end in her 2012 Senate campaign.65 While in the Senate she voted for a bill that limited farm subsidies for any individuals making more than $750,000 per year.66 However, in her 2012 campaign she also voiced support for a new farm bill that would restore milk price supports67 and has also supported federal programs protecting and promoting “specialty crops, dairy farmers, local and organic farming, [and] new farmers” and singled out dairy farmers for needed support.68
Warren has a poor record on corporate welfare issues and has made expansive comments about what is and is not corporate welfare, including her statement that changing the definition of full-time work to 40 hours a week from 30 hours a week for the purpose of Obamacare’s employer mandate was corporate welfare.69
While Warren has called for an end to subsidies for oil and gas companies,70 she appears to mostly refer to standard accounting practices and tax deductions available to all businesses. She supports increased subsidies for “green” and “clean” energy companies.71 She co-sponsored a bill that would allow a 30 percent tax credit on offshore wind facilities.72 Warren voted to reauthorize the Export-Import Bank, which primarily benefits large U.S. corporations such as Boeing and General Electric.73
Banking & Finance
Warren has been a consistent supporter of the Dodd-Frank Wall Street regulatory legislation. She was a driving force behind the creation of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) in the bill, serving as Assistant to the President and Special Advisor to the Secretary of the Treasury while overseeing the setting up of the new CFPB.74
When the Senate considered legislation scaling back some regulations on banks imposed by the Dodd-Frank law, Warren led what ultimately proved to be an unsuccessful effort to scuttle the bill.75
Warren has proposed legislation in her capacity as chair of the powerful Senate Banking Committee that would reinstate the Glass-Steagall separation of commercial and investment banks.76 She was not in Congress when the Troubled Asset Relief Program, often called a bailout of the banks, was passed, but she did chair the panel established by Congress to oversee the program and seems to believe it was a successful and worthwhile program, judging by the report her panel released in 2009 concluding “it is clear the program played a critical role in renewing the flow of credit and preventing a more acute crisis.”77 The report also concluded the bailout had created “an implicit guarantee for major financial institutions that distorts pricing for capital and encourages excessive risk-taking.”
Warren has not commented often on international affairs,78 leading one left-leaning magazine to run a story titled “Why Won’t Elizabeth Warren Reveal Her Foreign Policy Positions?”79 She has said the U.S. needs to work more closely with allies to combat piracy on the high seas,80 and she has voiced her support for the Obama administration’s renewal of diplomatic and some economic ties with Cuba.81
War on Terror
She has co-sponsored a bill that would prevent funding for the terrorist organization Hezbollah.82 And, in September 2014, she stated that destroying ISIS should be the president’s No. 1 priority.83 She endorsed Obama’s airstrikes against ISIS.84
In her 2012 Senate campaign Warren voiced her support for withdrawing troops from Afghanistan at a rate faster than the timeline that had been set by Obama.85 She also voted against arming the rebel forces in Syria.86
Warren has co-sponsored a bill that reinforces the American alliance with Israel, including providing defense support, improving trade conditions, and extending other cooperative opportunities between the two nations.87 She has supported sending aid to Israel, defending her vote by explaining the country is a liberal democracy in a part of the world where such governments are rare.88 During her 2012 Senate campaign, she advocated for a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.89
She signed a letter calling on Obama to institute stronger sanctions against Iran for its continued pursuit of a nuclear weapons program.90 She later announced her support for the deal negotiated by the Obama administration with Iran.91
Military Preparedness & Budget
Warren advocated for cuts to the defense budget during her 2012 Senate campaign. While she acknowledged that “sequestration” would not be good for Massachusetts, she stated that it is possible to make defense spending cuts in a targeted way.92
She co-sponsored a bill prohibiting any reduction of Army personnel in 2015. The bill also created a commission on restructuring the Army.93
Judiciary & Crime
In 2013, Warren told a group of liberal lawyers that there is too much corporate influence over the judicial nomination and confirmation process, stating that if they were to fail “sooner or later you’ll end up with a Supreme Court that functions as a wholly owned subsidiary of the Chamber of Commerce.”94
Warren has praised the Supreme Court’s decision in Obergefell v. Hodges, stating that the opinion “sits squarely within both text and tradition” of the Constitution.95 She has been a fierce critic of the Court’s Citizens United v. FEC decision, asserting that “democracy is in real danger” as a result of the ruling.96 She has called for a Constitutional amendment to overturn the Court’s decision.97
Warren supports the Court’s Roe v. Wade decision, and targeted her 2012 election opponent, Republican Sen. Scott Brown, for criticism, saying he represented a threat to overturn Roe.98
Free Speech & Religious Liberty
Warren has been a fierce critic of the Supreme Court’s ruling in the cause of Citizens United vs. FEC, asserting that legislative actions need to be taken to reverse the decision.99 To that end, she has sponsored multiple bills that would limit corporate involvement in elections, including a constitutional amendment that would give Congress nearly unfettered power to restrict spending on political speech.100 Another bill proposed by Warren would prohibit some groups from making independent expenditures in elections, create requirements for campaign finance disclosures for corporations and labor organizations, and institute limits on campaign contributions.101
She has also been critical of the Supreme Court’s decision in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby, and has co-sponsored a bill that would require employers to provide coverage of all health care services items even if said employers have moral or religious objections to providing those items.102
Warren has been a vocal proponent for forgiveness of student loans, co-sponsoring legislation that would forgive a percentage of student loans for every year of service of a public employee.103 She has also proposed setting student loan rates at the same rate the Federal Reserve makes loans to banks, a plan that was widely dismissed as unrealistic and flawed.104
Warren advocated in 2003 for public school choice programs, providing the ability for parents to send a child to a public school outside of their home district as a solution to inflated home prices.105 She has sponsored a bill that would provide federal grants to states to provide early kindergarten to 3- and 4-year-olds.106
Warren has supported gun control measures including voting both to ban gun magazines that have a capacity greater than 10 rounds107 and to ban assault weapons.108 She is a co-sponsor of the Handgun Trigger Safety Act, which would prohibit the manufacture of any handgun that lacks personalization technology preventing anyone but an authorized user from firing it and require all existing handguns that are re-sold to be retrofitted with the technology at manufacturer’s expense.109 She has also advocated for requiring background checks on private gun sales.110
Warren is a supporter of abortion rights,111 and opposed efforts to defund Planned Parenthood following the release of several videos suggesting the organization was profiting from the sale of fetal body parts.112 She supports a Massachusetts law requiring parental consent for girls under the age of 18 to obtain abortions, but with an option for a judge to provide consent in some circumstances.113 Warren has also co-sponsored a bill that would require employers to provide coverage of birth control and abortifacients, even if the employers have moral or religious objections to providing those items.114
Warren is a supporter of same-sex marriage and opposed the federal Defense of Marriage Act.115 Following the Supreme Court’s ruling on the issue she penned an op-ed suggesting opposition to same-sex marriage was akin Jim Crow-era segregation.116
Warren’s vulnerabilities will likely revolve around her questionable scholarly practices, her discredited claims of Native American heritage, and her general support for corporate welfare despite making anti-corporate rhetoric a cornerstone of her career.
Warren has authored two papers purporting to show that medical debts are the primary cause of bankruptcy in America. Both papers have been widely criticized for using a definition of “medical bankruptcy” that dramatically overstates the real number of bankruptcies caused by medical debts.117 A 1989 paper co-authored by Warren on bankruptcy and consumer credit was described by a leading expert in the field as making “extravagant and false claims,” riddled with “serious errors in their use of statistical bases which result in grossly mistaken functions and comparisons,” and concluded Warren and her co-author had “engaged in repeated instances of scientific misconduct.”
During her 2012 campaign for the U.S. Senate it was revealed that Warren may have used false claims of Native American heritage to gain an advantage in the hiring process at the University of Pennsylvania Law School and Harvard Law School. Investigations by Cherokee genealogists demonstrated that these claims were without substantiation.118
She also embellished her family history with a claim her grandparents were compelled to elope because of her grandfather’s family’s hostility to her grandmother’s Cherokee and Delaware heritage.119 Research revealed a marriage announcement in the newspaper establishing that Warren’s grandparents were married in a church close to their hometown by a prominent pastor.120
The progressive base of the Democratic party is likely to ignore, dismiss, or forgive these transgressions, although they could become an issue in a general election if she became the nominee. More damaging to Warren will be the credibility hit she is likely to take if her support for corporate subsidies such as the Export-Import Bank becomes an issue. Warrant has based much of her career on strident anti-corporate rhetoric, and focus on this issue could cause many would-be supporters to look for a candidate more consistent on her supposedly core issue.
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