It was a bit of a rough start for Senator-elect Elizabeth Warren, who held her first official press conference following her victory Tuesday. Suddenly, the voluble Harvard Law School professor and longtime media commentator sounded uncertain and impatient, offering terse answers to questions about fiscal policy and the success of women candidates.
“I’m glad” was all she said when asked to expound on the support she received from women voters and on the influx of women elected Tuesday. Asked to elaborate, she refused, saying: “I’m glad that women turned out to vote for me. I’m delighted.”
Asked a third time, Warren turned to Governor Deval Patrick, who was standing at her side at the State House press conference. “You want to try this?” she said.
Many expected Warren, freed from the attacks of her tough campaign, might be more expansive in discussing the meaning of her victory and the issues she will face in her new job. Traditionally such postelection press conferences are an opportunity for the triumphant candidate to look forward with relish to the challenges to come and reflect on the lessons of the campaign.
Instead, Warren, looking out on a large press corps eager to hear from the state’s new political star, brushed aside several questions, including ones about how to cope with the looming “fiscal cliff,” a year-end deadline to avoid tax increases and large spending cuts.
“Right now, the parties are in negotiations,” she said.
Pressed for her own views on the subject, she sought to cut off further inquires. “Well,” she said, “I think that’s where it is.”
Warren also declined to say which Senate committees she wants to serve on. She said she was speaking with majority leader Harry Reid about her assignments and would like to focus on those related to the middle-class issues on which she campaigned.
Speaking later to a handful of reporters after the press conference and away from the glare of the television cameras, Warren gave an explanation for her reluctance to engage, saying she needs to be more discreet now that she is making the transition from candidate to senator-elect.
“I’m trying to learn it,” she said, after she walked down the hall from Patrick’s office to meet with House Speaker Robert A. DeLeo. “Listen, all I can say is I was a lot more discreet as a candidate than I was in real life.”
Turning to a press aide, she said: “Can I say that? Maybe it’s indiscreet to talk about discretion.”
Aides said Warren was also fatigued after a long and grueling campaign.
Not all her answers at the press conference were clipped. After initially declining to talk about more women winning Senate seats, she offered a longer answer.
“Let’s get serious here: This is 2012, and we’re talking about 20 percent of the United States Senate is female,” she said. “That’s not an overwhelming number. The fact that in this campaign and in this Congress, there were debates about equal pay for equal work, over insurance for birth control, tells us that there’s still a lot of work.”
Warren also met with other Beacon Hill leaders Thursday, including Senate President Therese Murray and Auditor Suzanne Bump. Later she went to Brigham and Women’s Hospital to thank Mayor Thomas M. Menino for mobilizing his political organization on her behalf and to seek his advice on how she can help the city when she gets to Washington. The mayor has been ill since a recent trip to Italy and has spent two weeks in the hospital.
The visit to Menino was politically important, because the mayor is known to value elected officials who show the personal touch.
Senator Scott Brown, after his 2010 victory, made one of his first stops a breakfast with Menino. The mayor was grateful, publicly calling Brown a friend, though he ultimately endorsed Warren this time around.
Warren plans to travel to Washington next week to begin initial preparations for her transition. She will not be sworn in until January.
When Brown arrived in Washington in winter 2010, he drew an unusually large amount of attention from the national press. That was in part because his election was viewed as a surprise and because his arrival in the Senate had significant implications for the future of President Obama’s health care bill.
Warren is comparatively well known in Washington, with a national following among Democrats. But unlike Brown, her election coincides with other national races, including the president’s reelection, meaning she will be among a crop of new officials on Capitol Hill.
The governor, who met with Warren for more than an hour before the press conference Thursday, said Warren won her seat because she approached the campaign with conviction, something he hopes Warren brings to the Senate.
“Guns blazing isn’t the same thing as conviction,” Patrick said. “Conviction is a set of beliefs, a core set of values from which you make decisions. And that doesn’t mean that every decision is going to go your way or that you’re not going to have to make compromise.”
Noah Bierman can be reached at email@example.com; Michael Levenson at mlevenson