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Elizabeth Warren reverses stance on Trump pick Ben Carson

Elizabeth Warren (center) returned to her office on Capitol Hill in Washington on Thursday. J. Scott Applewhite/Associated Press/Associated Press

Senator Elizabeth Warren, whose support for President Trump’s choice to lead the Department of Housing and Urban Development in an earlier committee vote drew liberal outrage, altered her stance on the floor Thursday and joined other Democrats in opposing Dr. Ben Carson as the agency’s secretary.

Warren’s vote for Carson in a Senate Banking Committee hearing in January incited an unusual attack on the liberal favorite from her left flank, which is seething over Trump’s presidency and seeking party purity in opposing him.

At the time, Warren explained her position at length on her Facebook page, saying she had “serious, deep, profound concerns about Dr. Carson’s inexperience” and “adamantly disagree[d] with many of the outrageous things that Dr. Carson said during his presidential campaign.”


But, she said, she had been impressed with promises he made in response to a nine-page letter she sent with “detailed” questions about Housing and Urban Development and to the accountability he vowed during his hearing.

Warren, though, leads a wing of the party that is staunchly opposed to giving Trump any quarter, in much the same way conservative Republicans sought to deny President Obama any significant victories for eight years. At a Democratic National Committee meeting last month, some activists reportedly shouted “she sold us out.”

A Warren aide, who declined to be named and wanted to speak on background, said that in the five weeks since the Banking Committee voted on Carson, the Trump administration had repeatedly violated democratic principles. That, in Warren’s eyes, heightened the importance of having cabinet-level officials willing to stand up for the Constitution.

Warren felt that Carson did not meet that standard, the aide said.

The first-term senator has helped lead a drumbeat of attacks on Trump since the November election. She became one of the first national Democrats on Wednesday to call for Attorney General Jeff Sessions to resign after reports indicated that his own confirmation hearing testimony did not square with meetings he had held with Russian officials.


She also played a high-profile role in opposing Sessions’s confirmation by the full Senate. Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell invoked a rarely used rule to silence Warren as she was reading a letter from Coretta Scott King. The King letter opposed Sessions’s nomination for a federal judgeship in the 1980s.

That episode thrilled conservatives and added further fuel to the left’s growing fire.

Carson, a conservative and former neurosurgeon by trade who at one point appeared to question his own suitability for the HUD post, won his nomination Thursday before the full Senate on a 58-41 vote.

Republicans howled after Warren’s vote on Thursday, calling it an opening salvo in what many on both sides expect will be a Warren presidential campaign in 2020.

Bob Salera, a spokesman for the National Republican Senatorial Committee, said in a statement that Warren had launched “a head start on her presidential campaign today as she caved to pressure from the liberal base.

State GOP chairwoman Kirsten Hughes said in a release, “By succumbing to pressure from her angry base, Warren reveals she believes she is more accountable to national liberal activists than her constituents here at home.”

Warren announced in January she would seek a second term as senator. A WBZ/UMass Amherst poll released last September showed two longtime Massachusetts Republican figures — Lieutenant Governor Karyn Polito and former governor Bill Weld, who ran for vice president this year on the Libertarian Party ticket — both within a few points of Warren in a hypothetical 2018 Senate race.


Jim O’Sullivan can be reached at jim.osullivan@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter at @JOSreports.