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Warren ‘troubled’ by $400,000 Wall Street speaking fee for Obama

Elizabeth Warren.J. Scott Applewhite/Associated Press

WASHINGTON — Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren gently criticized former president Barack Obama Thursday for his decision to accept $400,000 from a Wall Street firm to speak at a health care conference this fall.

Warren was asked about the controversy during an interview about her new book on the SiriusXM radio show, “Alter Family Politics.”

“I was troubled by that,” she said.

That was the extent of her comments aimed directly at Obama. She quickly launched into a broader discussion of her views of the corrupting influence of money in Washington.

“I describe it as a snake that slithers through Washington. And that it shows up in so many different ways here in Washington,” she said, referencing her just-published book, “This Fight Is Our Fight: The Battle to Save America’s Middle Class.”


“The influence of dollars on this place is what scares me,” she continued. “I think it ultimately threatens democracy.”

While Warren’s critique was a far cry from the withering criticism some on the left have leveled at Obama, it’s rougher than anything she said during the 2016 campaign about former secretary of state Hillary Clinton’s acceptance of hefty speaking fees from Wall Street firms.

Unlike Obama, Clinton was considering running for office when she gave her controversial speeches, while the former president’s days in elected public office are behind him.

Warren stayed neutral — and mostly silent — throughout the bitter primary contest between Clinton and Vermont independent Bernie Sanders, despite, as she writes in her book, coming under intense pressure from both sides to endorse her preferred candidate. “I didn’t want to undermine either of our candidates or to short-circuit any part of that debate,” she writes.

When Warren finally did endorse Clinton, after the New York Democrat had secured enough primary votes to clinch the nomination, the Globe asked whether Clinton should release the transcripts of paid speeches she gave to Goldman Sachs, an issue Sanders had hammered on the campaign trail.


“That’s for her to decide — there will be a whole lot of issues to talk about over the next several months,” Warren said.

In the SiriusXM interview, Warren said one of her reasons for writing the book is that she wanted to talk about how liberals can fight back against the money and power wielded by the rich and powerful.

“There are more of us than there are of them. And we’ve got to use our voices and our votes and fight back,” she said.

News leaked earlier this week that Obama had agreed to a $400,000 speaking gig, with the check being written by investment bank Cantor Fitzgerald. The decision to accept such a large payday from one of the very establishments of the “fat cat bankers” Obama derided in office sparked chatter in Washington. (The sum is also nearly twice as large as the fees commanded by former secretary of state Hillary Clinton when she spoke to Wall Street audiences.)

Obama’s spokesman Eric Schultz defended the former president in a statement Wednesday.

“With regard to this or any speech involving Wall Street sponsors, I’d just point out that in 2008, Barack Obama raised more money from Wall Street than any candidate in history — and still went on to successfully pass and implement the toughest reforms on Wall Street since FDR,” Schultz said.


Victoria McGrane can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @vgmac.