You probably know Elizabeth Warren is up for reelection to her Senate seat. You probably heard that she’s planning to take a “hard look” at running against President Trump in 2020. She dresses down corporate CEOs and despises big banks, and Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell once shushed her on the Senate floor because “she persisted.”
But much of the Cambridge Democrat’s Senate record has been obscured by her national profile —
which, love her or hate her, is outsized for a first-term senator. She’s viewed as a brash partisan, a Democrat who rages against the corporate machine and mixes it up with President Trump on Twitter. But it’s not the whole story.
For Massachusetts voters weighing whether to give her another six-year term, here are a few things to know about Warren’s record that might have been obscured or distorted by the noise out there.
1.) She was the only member of the Massachusetts delegation to oppose a sweeping medical innovations bill.
In the waning days of the Obama administration, Warren opposed a bill that was ridiculously popular with key Massachusetts constituencies because she thought Republicans had turned it into a handout to “Big Pharma.”
The $6.3 billion 21st Century Cures Act, which was signed into law by President Obama in December 2016, provided billions of dollars in new funding for medical research, including $1.8 billion for cancer research. It also authorized Congress to send states $1 billion to address the raging opioid crisis.
The bill was championed by the pharmaceutical, biotechnology, and medical-device industries — all major Massachusetts employers. Addiction treatment advocates supported it. So did the Obama administration and Governor Charlie Baker.
“Any effort to delay or oppose this package serves only to maintain a status quo where it takes too long and costs too much to bring treatments to patients in need,” Robert K. Coughlin, chief executive of the Massachusetts Biotechnology Council, said at the time.
Baker called it “an effort to advance Massachusetts’ leadership in biomedical innovation and expedite new ways to treat disease and addiction.”
But Warren said the final version of the legislation had been “hijacked” by the pharmaceutical industry and packed full of “a bunch of special giveaways.”
“I know the difference between compromise and extortion,” she said.
2) She’s spent all or part of 142 days away from Massachusetts and Washington, D.C., since May 2017.
Warren’s GOP opponent, Geoff Diehl, suggests she spends most of her time crisscrossing the country, stumping for other Democrats or going on late-night talk shows, all in pursuit of the Oval Office.
Warren does do plenty of that. Five days before the election, she was stumping in Ohio. With four days to go, she’s in Wisconsin.
A breakdown of her daily schedule since May 2017, however, shows that she’s spent nearly three-fourths (74 percent) of her time in Massachusetts and Washington — where she has to be to do key aspects of her job.
In an average month, according to schedule data provided by her office, Warren spent about 10 full days in Massachusetts, uninterrupted by any out-of-state travel. But there’s a range: With Election Day looming and the Senate in recess for about half the month, October 2018 saw Warren at home 18 full days. In March, she was only in the state seven full days. That month she traveled to the Asia-Pacific region for a weeklong fact-finding mission.
She’s been in the state enough to hold 37 town halls since the start of 2017.
What about the 142 days when she spent all or part of her time traveling beyond Massachusetts or D.C.? Some of Warren’s out-of-town trips were personal: Warren’s two children and three grandchildren live in California. Others are Senate business: She’s gone on several overseas fact-finding trips.
Others were about national politics — and, certainly, her national ambitions.
3) Warren has worked on a variety of constituent issues that have not received much attention.
Here’s an example: In July 2017, her office received a constituent letter raising concerns with the long lag time between National Guard members receiving a promotion and the Pentagon officially recognizing it. Some members were waiting a year or more, which meant doing the new job without the proper rank and pay. She heard about the problem from Major General Gary W. Keefe, the adjutant general of the Massachusetts National Guard, according to her aides and a National Guard Association spokesman. Guard members in a Massachusetts unit stationed in Kuwait also mentioned it during her July fact-finding trip to the Middle East, Warren’s aides said.
Warren, with cosponsors from both parties, introduced legislation that sought to fix the delays and would have given officers backdated pay. A modified version became law earlier this year.
“Senator Warren really was one of the most outspoken on the issue,” said National Guard Association spokesman John Goheen, who said data show the turnaround time on promotions has decreased.
What else does Warren point to when asked what she has delivered for Massachusetts? She helped secure $216 million for the dredging of Boston Harbor — a project that the Army Corps of Engineers estimates will generate $2.7 billion in economic activity for New England; $400 million for the MBTA’s Green Line extension; $14.5 million in disaster relief for Massachusetts fishermen; and, since she joined the Senate Armed Services Committee in 2017, more than $184 million for military construction projects in the state.
Her efforts on the student-loan front — which entailed two years of browbeating the Obama administration — led the government to wipe clean the student debt of 4,500 Massachusetts students judged to have been defrauded by the for-profit America Career Institute.
4) No surprise: Republicans often bemoan Warren’s scorched-earth rhetoric. But some Democrats feel the same.
Billionaire investor Warren Buffett, a Democrat, said on CNBC in 2015 he thought Warren would “do better if she was less angry and demonized less,” remarks that were called sexist by many. But an unnamed Warren adviser told the New Yorker there was “a grain of truth” to the criticism.
Warren can be harsh with members of her own party. Earlier this year, she blasted moderate Democratic colleagues for supporting legislation to roll back some post-financial crisis rules for all but the very largest banks. Warren called it “a dangerous proposal” and accused Democratic proponents of helping Republicans set the country up for another financial crisis.
Senator Heidi Heitkamp, Democrat of North Dakota, was among those Warren denounced. She told the Atlantic that Warren had “misled” the public, overstating the risks posed by the changes. “Some of the things that she has said are incorrect,” Heitkamp said.
Warren is unmoved. Criticizing fellow Democrats “doesn’t make me the most popular kid on the team,” Warren wrote during the bank bill fight. “But that’s not why I ran for the Senate. The people of Massachusetts didn’t send me here to fight for big banks. They sent me here to fight for them.”
5) Though she is a combative partisan, Warren can point to a dozen or so bipartisan proposals she’s helped get to the president’s desk since Trump took over the Oval Office.
None of these is likely to make it into the history books. She introduced legislation with GOP Senator Chuck Grassley of Iowa to make hearing aids available over-the-counter, for example. She cosponsored the “Smart Savings Act” with GOP Senator Rob Portman of Ohio to boost federal employees’ savings; an opioids bill with Shelley Moore Capito of West Virginia; and, with John Cornyn of Texas, legislation to make it easier for veterans to obtain commercial driver’s licenses.
She’s no Edward M. Kennedy, reaching grand bargains with the opposite party, Republicans contend. Then again, the Senate is so broken, there are few opportunities for anyone to strike grand bargains these days, countered Peter Ubertaccio, a political science professor at Stonehill College. “We are so polarized.”