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A low-key return to D.C. for Elizabeth Warren

Avoids spotlight as she gets down to building staff

Senator-elect Elizabeth Warren and her Wisconsin counterpart, Tammy Baldwin, walked to a freshman luncheon in the Capitol on Tuesday.PABLO MARTINEZ MONSIVAIS/AP

WASHINGTON — As Elizabeth Warren walked through the marble corridors of the Capitol on Tuesday, she tried assiduously to keep a low profile. Walking arm in arm with Senator-elect Tammy Baldwin of Wisconsin, Warren passed paintings of historic politicians, busts of former vice presidents, and the doors to the Senate floor they will enter once sworn in.

A small gaggle of reporters awaited one of the rising stars in Washington, and Warren knew it. She leaned into Baldwin and was overheard saying, "Pretend you're talking to me."

She answered no questions, and strolled into a luncheon as reporters from the biggest news organizations in the country scolded themselves for not getting more information.


It was a completely different feel from the day 2½ years ago when the last new Massachusetts senator entered the building. Legions of reporters awaited Scott Brown, who seemed happy to accept the mantle of stardom that Washington was offering. He shook hands with nearly everyone who extended one. Reporters and camera crews fought for space and congressional aides applauded and snapped photos as he walked the hallways.

Warren seems eager to avoid any type of similar atmosphere. She does not seem interested in taking any advice from Brown (they have not had a meeting yet, and none is scheduled), and it was Brown on Tuesday who held the press conference in the Capitol, not Warren.

Brown said he would work to make sure the transition would be smooth so that constituents would still be served.

"I'm going to certainly reach out and call," he said. "We will do it as it was done with me, with Senator [Paul] Kirk, to make sure nobody falls through the cracks."

Warren is undergoing orientation for the incoming class of senators. But although several of her new colleagues are former members of the House, having served on the other side of the building, Warren comes with a unique skill set.


She has testified before members of Congress. She helped lobby them, and she was almost sent for confirmation before them when President Obama was considering her as head of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.

After several hours of meetings, she emerged from a room with a few books under her arm and a backpack on, which she removed and handed to a single aide traveling with her.

"It's exciting to be here. I am eager to get started," she said in a brief interview.

When told that she must know the building pretty well already, she motioned to the room where the orientation was taking place and said, "Not like that."

"I'm learning," she added.

Warren is trying to build a staff. She will spend Wednesday meeting with the Massachusetts delegation, and she is already facing the prospect that, even before she is officially sworn in, she could become the state's senior senator if Senator John F. Kerry takes a Cabinet position.

A group of black ministers who supported Warren — including the Rev. Jeffrey L. Brown, the Rev. Eugene F. Rivers III, and the Rev. Bruce H. Wall — are calling on her to appoint a diverse staff, and have sent her names of minorities who could serve on her transition team.

"Professor Warren, we are confident that the composition of these proposed leadership groups will reflect your often-stated commitment to racial and class inclusion and diversity," they wrote in a letter to her.


One of the biggest subjects of speculation concerned Warren's committee assignment. Warren has not said what committee seat she is seeking, but the Banking Committee would be a natural fit for the former consumer advocate and consumer credit watchdog.

The number-two Democrat on the panel, Rhode Island's Jack Reed, was quoted by The Nation as supportive of a Banking Committee assignment for Warren — if she is seeking it. "I can't think of anybody that's come to the Senate with 30 years of detailed knowledge of the industry from the perspective of teaching at law school and doing many other things, and then serving in the drafting of significant aspects of Dodd-Frank from the administration standpoint. So she comes prepared," Reed said.

Warren also is said to be interested in the Judiciary Committee, which would match up with her Harvard Law School experience. Senate majority leader Harry Reid is not expected to make committee assignments until next year.

Michael Levenson of the Globe staff contributed to this report. Matt Viser can be reached at maviser@globe.com.