Sen. Mark WarnerMark WarnerDevin Nunes has jeopardized the oversight role of Congress Senators push Trump on defense deals with India The Hill's 12:30 Report MORE is less outspoken than some of his fellow junior Democrats, but he’s beginning to be seen as a powerful player in Congress.
The freshman Democrat from Virginia has never been known for flamboyance. Political reporters repeatedly knocked him during the early stages of the 2008 campaign for being boring.
And he’s given $87,500 from his leadership political action committee (PAC) to colleagues and Democratic candidates as well as $5,000 to the Nevada Democratic Party and $15,000 to the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee over the past 15 months. Warner, however, is tightlipped about this work.
“I’m happy to help my colleagues,” he said.
The senator also teamed up with Sen. Bob CorkerBob CorkerSenators introduce new Iran sanctions Senators war over Wall Street during hearing for Trump's SEC pick Rand Paul roils the Senate with NATO blockade MORE (R-Tenn.) to tackle a major piece of financial regulatory reform: the problem of financial institutions becoming too big to fail.
In recent weeks he has reached out to Sen. Lindsey GrahamLindsey GrahamGOP senators pitch alternatives after House pulls ObamaCare repeal bill McCain says he hasn't met with Trump since inauguration Under pressure, Dems hold back Gorsuch support MORE (R-S.C.) on legislation to provide tax incentives for homes and offices that become more energy-efficient.
Graham said he had “a couple” of lunches and dinners with Warner and other senators in recent months and Warner suggested working together during one of those meals.
“He’s an easy guy to work with,” said Graham. “He seems willing to engage Republicans.”
John Podesta, president of the Center for American Progress, said Warner “is one of the few people that can still have a civil conversation with people across the aisle.”
Even after bipartisan negotiations on financial regulatory reform collapsed, Corker praised Warner as “the best partner anybody could possibly imagine.”
Warner’s rumored presidential ambitions, prodigious giving as a freshman and feverish activity have raised speculation among Senate insiders that he may aspire to a future in the Democratic leadership.
Warner, in a brief hallway interview, dismissed that possibility as “baloney.”
But Warner took a more partisan stance Tuesday when he organized a Senate floor protest of GOP obstruction of President Barack ObamaBarack ObamaThe Memo: Winners and losers from the battle over health care Ex-Trump aide: Tillerson is ‘part of the swamp’ Rand Paul takes victory lap on GOP health bill MORE’s nominees.
Thirteen lawmakers made it to the floor to highlight what they called Republican abuse of Senate procedures.
In a large group of talented and energetic sophomore and freshman senators, such as Sheldon WhitehouseSheldon WhitehouseDems introduce MAR-A-LAGO Act to publish visitor logs Under pressure, Dems hold back Gorsuch support The Hill’s Whip List: Where Dems stand on Trump’s Supreme Court nominee MORE (D-R.I.), Sherrod BrownSherrod BrownThe Hill’s Whip List: Where Dems stand on Trump’s Supreme Court nominee Senators war over Wall Street during hearing for Trump's SEC pick Sanders to oppose Gorsuch's nomination MORE (D-Ohio) and Al FrankenAl FrankenFriends, foes spar in fight on Trump’s Supreme Court nominee Lawmakers share photos of their dogs in honor of National Puppy Day Franken challenges witness endorsement of Gorsuch MORE (D-Minn.), Warner cringes at the thought of coming off as a show horse instead of a workhorse.
Behind the scenes, he has worked to unify junior Democratic senators.
Warner helped put together a recent meeting between the Democratic classes of 2006 and 2008 to voice frustration over Republican use of the filibuster. That led to a meeting last week with Reid at which the majority leader pledged to pursue reform of the filibuster rule.
The Democratic freshman class — which totals 12 members — began meeting regularly at the start of the 111th Congress. Warner suggested the group take advantage of its influence as a large bloc of the conference by inviting guests to join it for briefings and discussions.
So far the group has met with Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke, National Security Adviser Jim Jones, Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner and Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen SebeliusKathleen SebeliusSebelius on GOP healthcare plan: 'I'm not sure what the goal is here' Obama's health secretary to be first female president of American University Leaked email: Podesta pushed Tom Steyer for Obama’s Cabinet MORE and had lunch with White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel.
The regular policy discussions have helped forge a sense of identity and teamwork. And as the freshmen have learned the intricate workings of the chamber, they have sought to have a bigger impact.
Warner’s bustling activity has received little attention because he has preferred not to discuss with reporters his private interactions with colleagues.
But his role emerged during interviews with freshman and sophomore Democrats last week.
Senate Democratic leaders view Warner as one of the more promising new members of the conference and have given him challenging assignments.
Reid put him in charge of Senate Democratic outreach to the business community, a constituency that has had a rocky relationship with the party over the years.
But Warner, who co-founded the company that became Nextel and earned millions in the telecommunications industry, has won rave reviews from business leaders.
Warner was one of the leaders of a group of freshman Democrats who offered a package of amendments to contain costs, encourage innovation and promote accountability across the healthcare system.
The freshmen won the early support of Maine Republican Sens. Olympia Snowe and Susan CollinsSusan CollinsGOP senators pitch alternatives after House pulls ObamaCare repeal bill Five takeaways from Labor pick’s confirmation hearing ObamaCare repeal faces last obstacle before House vote MORE and won adoption of the package, a rare and significant bipartisan victory.
“They moved us from being neutral and skeptical [about the bill] to positive enough that we encouraged the Senate to move forward,” Castellani said.
Castellani said he could not even recall who handled business outreach to Democrats before Warner. “He’s one of those few members of the Senate who understands the business side and gets how the business has to operate,” said Castellani.