Senator Elizabeth Warren wants $50,000 in student loan debt canceled. She wants $700 billion invested in child care. She wants the richest Americans to be taxed based on their total wealth.
President Biden has not shown an appetite to do any of those things in full.
But the senior senator from Massachusetts is focusing her energies on tugging her onetime rival left, not on planning another presidential campaign, she said in an interview with the Globe.
“Joe Biden is running for re-election in 2024. My job right now is to help him succeed,” Warren, 71, said when asked if she would consider running for president again to ensure her policy vision is enacted. So she’s not ruling it out? “I’m not running for president, no,” she said, chuckling from her Zoom window, an are-you-crazy look on her face.
That doesn’t mean she’s any less determined to see her ideas become law. In her latest book, “Persist,” released last week, Warren continues pushing her policy vision on the man who bested her for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination and ultimately the White House. It’s part of her larger effort to make sweeping change in a moment of crisis, although it’s not clear whether, having been passed over for a perch in the administration herself, the tools at hand will be enough.
“I want more, I’ve made that clear,” Warren said during Friday’s interview, referring to Biden’s child care plan, wearing a gray sweatshirt and sipping tea in the sunroom of her Cambridge home. “We had a child care crisis before the pandemic, but the pandemic has ripped back the covering.”
But where the Massachusetts senator — a figure who made her name lambasting Republicans and Democrats alike after the last financial crisis — could have dialed up her criticism of the White House, she instead heaped on the praise.
“He already gets the basic idea, and he’s already willing to make a big commitment,” Warren said of Biden’s child care plan. “We just need to push him to make a bigger commitment.”
Her party back in control of Washington, Warren is working to shape her deeply held progressive beliefs into consensus Democratic policy with an inside game of influence and private lobbying, while asking her supporters to use the power of persuasion to bring the White House along — a departure from the more oppositional tack she has sometimes pursued.
Now, with a new book, her 12th, and a flurry of accompanying media interviews, she is publicly ruminating on why she lost and looking for policy wins wherever she can find them. The book repackages many of the plans from her presidential run, but glosses over some big questions about why her bid for the presidency failed. Her sunny predictions that the nation is ripe for sweeping change could yet collide with political reality.
There are still billions of dollars of distance between her proposals and Biden’s — something she minimized in the interview as negotiating “the details.” But for now, Warren, who was willing to throw punches at President Obama, appears content with a more conciliatory approach. And the progressive leader has been telling reporters she plans to continue her efforts from her current post, seeking re-election to the Senate in 2024.
Of her patience with Biden, she said: “It hasn’t run out yet, that’s all I can say. ... I’m fighting as hard as I can, and I use every tool that I have available.”
Biden has said he supports canceling up to $10,000 in student loan debt via legislative action, and has proposed raising capital gains taxes to draw more tax dollars from the wealthiest Americans — proposals that fall far short of her vision. Warren credited Biden for engaging with issues she cares about, apparently satisfied the Overton window is moving in her favor even as she said a nation in crisis needs more.
Still, there have been signs of her influence on the president, namely the appointment of Warren-aligned figures to prominent positions in the administration — meaningful choices for a politician who firmly believes “personnel is policy.” Her close ally, Richard Cordray, was recently tapped to head federal student aid in the Biden administration. Cordray served as the first director of her brainchild, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, a watchdog agency Warren successfully battled to create in the wake of the 2008 financial crisis.
Warren praised the choice and said they are in close touch, but wouldn’t say whether she expected Cordray to cancel debt administratively as she has proposed. Ultimately, “it’s Joe Biden who can cancel the debt,” she said.
It is a delicate dance from the periphery of the White House, one that draws on her relationships with allies like Cordray and at the highest levels of the administration.
“If I had something I wanted to say to [Vice President] Kamala [Harris], I’ve got her phone number,” Warren said. “And I have no doubt that I could say it.”
“My job is to say, this is the moment we can make change,” Warren said. “It’s very much like it was during the Great Depression or during the 2008 crash: The door for change opens just a little and the opportunity to come in and lay out new directions — to make big structural change — is in front of us.
“Let’s make the solution big enough to actually solve the problem,” she said.
One of those problems: a disappointing jobs report last week that showed the US economy gained 266,000 jobs in April, a fraction of the 1 million forecasted by some economic analysts. As Republicans blamed government assistance programs like expanded unemployment insurance, which they claim keep would-be job seekers out of the market, Warren and White House officials said the dip makes it clear the US economy needs the trillions of dollars in investments Biden has proposed in child care, education, and infrastructure jobs.
Getting parents — especially women — back into the job market will require affordable child care options, Warren said, and the urgency is obvious.
“This is the moment!” Warren said, waving her arms in unrestrained enthusiasm. “There is the momentum to get it done this time. This is the moment when we’re having a true national conversation about child care.”
Child care, both the policy side and the personal, is threaded through Warren’s new book, in which she describes the myriad challenges of moving through the world as a woman. She writes about buying a curly haired wig to wear in her early teaching days because she thought it made her look older; escaping a lecherous colleague as he chased her around his desk; and facing down stereotypes that women can’t win elections, running, as she puts it, “against the shadows of Martha [Coakley] and Hillary [Clinton].”
Without explicitly blaming sexism for her loss, she details the challenges and the double standards of competing for the Democratic nomination for president, even as she elides other questions about why she never got more support from voters of color despite her rhetorical focus on racial inequality; or why her efforts to use her campaign to reform democracy didn’t resonate more with voters.
“In this moment, against this president, in this field of candidates, maybe I just wasn’t good enough to reassure the voters, to bring along the doubters, to embolden the hopeful,” she writes in the book.
There are also a few painful and revealing stories, like one late night on the campaign trail, after she and her husband, Bruce, had wolfed down their customary burgers and beers, and at his prodding, she allowed the hope to swell in her chest that she might actually win the race.
But the trail is also filled with moments like “a big bucket of cold water,” like being asked at campaign events how a woman could succeed in the race.
“Please, please, please,” she writes, “I would show everyone that a woman could win.”
Warren was candid about those challenges, she said in the Globe interview, in part because she hopes future women candidates will look to the book as a guide.
Given all she’s learned, what would it take for a woman to win?
“I don’t know,” she acknowledged, and paused.
“Winning the presidency is about a moment,” she said. “The world keeps changing.”
For now, her focus is still on influencing the current president. “We’re only 100 days in.”