Amid presidential murmurs, Warren to address AFL-CIO

LOS ANGELES — Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) will address a crucial faction of the liberal base Sunday as speculation intensifies that she will someday seek the presidency.

Helping to open the quadrennial AFL-CIO convention, Warren is expected to be celebrated by rank-and-file union members as labor’s liberal bulwark in the Senate. The Massachusetts senator can strengthen her bonds with the important Democratic constituency that will play a big part in the party’s 2016 presidential primary.

“The bottom line is, I think the world of her and I think the whole labor movement does. She is a woman of her word, and she knows you never lose when you stand up for what’s right,” said Massachusetts AFL-CIO President Steve Tolman.

Union officials buzz when asked about Warren’s 2016 prospects.

“I am not thinking about the presidency right now, but I do know we have the greatest U.S. senator representing us. I want her in the Senate doing the great work that she’s doing,” Tolman said. “Give me a couple more years, and let me find out she’s interested, and I will drive the train.”

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Warren is seemingly not interested in running for the White House in 2016. Asked by ABC News last year if she would consider running for president, Warren said, “No, no, no, no, no.”

National union leaders are also fans of Warren. Lee Saunders, president of the powerful American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME), sent around Warren’s Labor Day message to local AFSCME officials across the country.

“Elizabeth Warren has made it clear that she understands the role the labor movement plays in bringing dignity and respect to all workers, not only those who belong to unions,” Saunders said in a statement to The Hill.

Dorian Warren, a Columbia University professor who specializes in labor politics, said it was a “super smart” move by the senator to come to the convention for the nation’s largest labor federation.

“It is a thank you to the labor movement, who stood by her not only during her election race but also during her time at the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau,” said Warren, who’s not related to the Massachusetts Democrat.

Further, he said, it’s not a bad idea for the senator to garner labor’s support, which traditionally helps turn out the vote for Democratic candidates across the country.

“If she has an eye on 2016 or 2020, to be with labor early on and earn labor support, and if she decides to jump into the primary in 2016, having that labor support could really help her,” Warren said. 

Unions have been long been supporters of Warren, a harsh Wall Street critic, pushing her to be selected as head of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. She was later appointed by President Obama to be a special adviser to the agency.

Further, labor had Warren’s back last year as she took on and defeated Republican Sen. Scott Brown in her Senate race.

In September 2012, AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka went to Boston and gave a full-throated endorsement of Warren, telling union members to avoid sexism when walking into the voting booth.

Later in October, Trumka — along with several other major national union leaders, such as Service Employees International Union President Mary Kay Henry, United Steelworkers President Leo Gerard and American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten — joined hundreds of union members to canvass the Boston area for the senator in her campaign against Brown.

“I can’t say I have seen that before,” said Donna Kelly-Williams, president of the Massachusetts Nurses Association, about the fly-in visits into the Bay State by the labor leaders.

The state nurses union was the first labor group to endorse Warren for her 2012 race, according to Kelly-Williams.

“I would love to see her run in 2016,” she said.

In the Senate, Warren has been an aggressive critic of banking regulators, pushed to raise the minimum wage and has introduced legislation to cut interest rates for student loans.

“We lost Teddy Kennedy, but he had to work something up there with St. Peter to get us Elizabeth Warren because she just has filled a void,” Tolman said. 

Such love from labor can help a Democratic presidential candidate’s campaign as well as divide union support during the party’s primary. Warren, the Columbia University professor, said if the Massachusetts senator decided to run, she could be a threat to Hillary Clinton, considered the party’s 2016 front-runner. 

“She can isolate labor support for Hillary that automatically would have gone to Hillary in the Democratic primary,” Warren said.

 “It would prevent labor endorsements for Hillary. … Labor still has an enormous amount of money and ground troops across the country.”

Warren’s prominence elevates labor’s concerns into the national spotlight as well.

Frank Moroney, executive director of AFSCME Council 93, representing public sector workers throughout New England, said Warren’s ideas “belong on a national stage.”

“Her ideas and beliefs belong on a national stage and the sincerity and passion that she exudes when she speaks simply cannot be contrived. It can only come from someone who actually lives what they believe,” Moroney said in a statement.

—This report was updated at 6:25 p.m.