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Elizabeth Warren refocuses on Senate work

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US Senator Elizabeth Warren in July.
US Senator Elizabeth Warren in July.Getty Images For EMILY's List

WASHINGTON — For the first time in a long time, Elizabeth Warren is no longer at the center of frenzied political speculation about her place in the 2016 campaign, and she seems thrilled.

"I love this job," Warren said in a Thursday interview in her airy Senate office, looking incredulous at a reporter's query on whether a post in a possible Hillary Clinton administration would tempt her to leave her six-year Senate term early.

The Massachusetts Democrat has dived back into the work of being a senator with visible gusto since being passed over to be Clinton's running mate shortly before the party's national convention. She is taking on a list of high-profile issues from health insurance to passage of corporate tax reform — which she thinks is increasingly possible — that move her beyond her traditional portfolio of Wall Street reform and consumer protection.

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"If you're asking, 'Do I keep developing more capacity to take on more issues?' the answer is yes. That's what getting better at your job should be all about," Warren said.

And she is excited, her enthusiasm for various policy proposals bringing her to the edge of her chair for much of the half-hour interview.

"Wasn't it fun?" she asked about a Thursday New York Times op-ed she penned on her vision for a crackdown on loopholes that allow American multinational companies such as Apple to avoid billions of dollars in taxes.

Just in the last two weeks, she has, among other things, led 19 Senate colleagues in writing a letter challenging Mylan Pharmaceuticals on dramatic EpiPen price increases; blasted a wonky-sounding provision of the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a major trade deal supported by the Obama administration but opposed by liberals (and, thanks to pressure from the left during the primary, Clinton, too); and written a letter with Bernie Sanders and three other colleagues demanding answers from Aetna on its decision to pull back from Affordable Care Act insurance exchanges.

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Still, Warren is in strong demand as a political surrogate, and she hasn't taken her eye off the campaign. She returns to the trail Friday in Philadelphia, where she will be stumping for Clinton as well as Democratic Senate candidate Katie McGinty

"This will be the first time I've campaigned for two people simultaneously," Warren said in a preview of her dual tasks at the event. "And I've got to say," she continued, snapping her fingers over her head, "two strong women — this is going to be fun."

Warren, who is up for reelection in 2018, demurred when asked whether she was planning to run for a second term. She has raised about $4 million, according to federal filings, a relatively small sum that has led some to wonder whether she will seek another term.

"This isn't the place to make an announcement. I will go back to the first point, which is I really love this work," she said. "If I decide to run, I'll get out there and fight for what I believe in."

She laughed out loud when asked about the possibility of former Red Sox pitcher Curt Schilling running for her seat.

Would he be a formidable candidate? "He can certainly try," she said.

It's been a whirlwind couple of years for Warren in the national spotlight, from liberals trying to draft her to run for president, to hand-wringing on the content and timing of her endorsement, to heated coverage of her place on Clinton's vice presidential shortlist.

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Now, Warren is digging back into policy — especially economic policy — both at home and in Washington.

On a recent late summer evening, Warren drew hundreds of voters to an auditorium at the Roxbury Community College Media Arts Center where she gave a slick Power Point presentation on the pressures facing America's middle class — the presentation she has given a few times before in the last couple of months, including the day after her prime-time speech at the Democratic National Convention.

Combining her law professor's acumen with a twangy, accessible speaking style, Warren used graphics to detail decades of policy changes that she says tilted the playing field against the middle class.

"Today, a minimum wage job won't pay the bills for a mama and a baby in a one-room apartment," she told the crowd. "The reality of middle class life today is very different from what it was in my parents' era or even in my time. And that change is the direct result of some very deliberate policy decisions, namely the decision to invest in the richest Americans."

But to be a player on some of the big issues she wants to tackle would probably require her to strike some tough compromises on her trademark liberal ideals. Take corporate tax reform, an area she is clearly examining. New York Senator Charles Schumer, who is in line to be the next Democratic leader in the Senate, and majority leader if the party wins control of the chamber, has indicated he would like to pursue a corporate tax overhaul next year and has said he is talking with House Speaker Paul Ryan, a Republican from Wisconsin.

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Yet Warren has previously blasted fellow Democrats' position on tax overhaul as too mild, calling President Obama's plan last November on multinational corporate taxes a "giant wet kiss" to the corporations.

Big businesses have started to lobby Congress in earnest to undertake a major revamp of the corporate tax code, she said. Warren wants to make sure they don't get "a new sweetheart deal," as she said in her op-ed.

But Warren also sees the growing interest on Capitol Hill on tackling tax reform as an opportunity to make the system fairer for small businesses and the average American taxpayer.

"I think the possibility of corporate tax reform is much greater today than it has been at any point over the last several years," Warren said.

A major reason for this, she said, is that big multinational corporations are losing their leverage as countries around the world crack down on tax havens these companies have used to pay as little tax as possible on their profits. One recent example in the headlines was the ruling by the European Union that Apple owed $14.5 billion in taxes.

"They're coming back [to Congress] because they don't have any choice," Warren said. "This is our chance to make the system fair again; this is our chance to raise the revenue we need to invest in 21st century infrastructure," research, and other progressive priorities, she said.

Any corporate tax reform would need to lead to more revenue overall, not less, and it must stop putting small businesses at a disadvantage, she said. She also wants to end provisions that she says create incentives for big businesses to invest overseas, not in the United States. Warren said she believes there are Republicans she can work with in the Senate on the issue, though she declined to name any.

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"I think there will be. I think nobody wants to jump out first. We're really early in this process."

Warren would work on this issue and others with the added benefit of her leadership position in the Democratic caucus, which she expects to keep next year. Warren said the position, which Democratic minority leader Harry Reid created for her, has at times helped her shape the Democratic agenda.

"Every once in a while, it matters a lot to be in the room," she said. To illustrate, she recalled a leadership meeting back in March during which the team decided on a list of amendments to push to attach to the budget resolution. She said she successfully lobbied for one putting Democrats on the record supporting expanding Social Security. Warren introduced the amendment, and it got almost every Democrat's vote.

Democrats haven't enacted any legislation on the issue yet, "but the whole debate has shifted" away from one on how much to cut the program to a debate on whether to "expand Social Security a little, expand Social Security a lot" on the Democratic side.

"Again. We're not there. We haven't gotten anything passed. But these differences in national debates matter."


Globe staff reporter Stephanie Ebbert contributed to this report. Victoria McGrane can be reached at victoria.mcgrane @globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @vgmac. Annie Linskey can be reached at annie.linskey@globe.com. She is on Twitter @AnnieLinskey.