The White House says President Obama has a good relationship with Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), who is battling Obama on a host of high-profile issues.
Warren, picked by Obama to be a special assistant to the president in his first term, led a liberal insurrection to the Obama-backed $1.1 trillion government-funding bill last week.
Warren has also rallied opposition to Obama’s nomination of Antonio Weiss to the Treasury Department. Warren has slammed Weiss, the head of global investment banking firm Lazard, for his company’s role in facilitating so-called “inversions,” where companies merge with international partners in a bid to avoid U.S. taxes.
And she’s convinced enough prominent Democrats — including Sens. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), and Al Franken (D-Minn.) — to oppose his nomination that the White House would need Republicans to ensure his confirmation.
In both cases, Warren is casting the White House as either too close to Wall Street, or not tough enough on big banks.
Warren has also denounced Obama’s efforts to secure trade agreements with the European Union and a group of Asian and Pacific countries.
Despite the friction, the White House says the relationship between Obama and Warren is healthy.
White House press secretary Josh Earnest on Friday described their relationship as good, and said the pair “have the same kinds of goals and priorities.”
He noted that the White House and Warren had worked together just weeks ago to scuttle an emerging proposal from Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) that would have permanently extended a series of tax credits for corporate interests.
Progressives opposed the deal, which collapsed after the president’s veto threat, because it did not also make permanent breaks for low-income families.
“I think that that those shared values will be on display over the next couple of years as well,” Earnest said.
Liberal groups see her as a check on the White House for their causes.
Adam Green, co-founder of the Progressive Change Campaign Committee — an outside group that has swung support behind Warren and repeatedly criticized Obama — said her stand against the government-funding bill left progressives on Capitol Hill “more united and ferocious in fighting for a big idea than ever.”
Green contrasted her vision to “corporate Democrats who were willing to sell out to Wall Street. “
But another White House official pointed to coordination between Warren and the White House on the tax extenders bill to highlight how they are often fighting on the same side.
Although Warren herself was out of the country at the time — visiting Israel in a trip that only heightened presidential speculation — White House officials worked together with her staff on the bill.
Obama aides also say the pair worked together to craft the Fair Shot college loans proposal last summer, which would have allowed those holding federal student loans to refinance at a lower rate. The initiative, which Warren headed on Capitol Hill, became a centerpiece item in Democrats’ midterm campaigns.
And the White House says they’ve been coordinating closely with Warren on the confirmation of surgeon general nominee Vivek Murthy, who has come under fire from conservatives over his support for gun control.
Warren has growing influence within the Democratic Party.
She is the undisputed face of the party’s populist movement, and has secured a newly-created leadership position with Senate Democrats. Speculation is only growing that she could run for the White House as a liberal rival to Hillary Clinton.
Obama, a lame-duck president, is likely to find himself at odds with the Massachusetts populist if in his final two years is looks for deals with congressional Republicans.
“Obviously the president is working very hard right now to avoid Democrats splintering,” said Princeton University historian Julian Zelizer.
The spending bill fight highlights that anything touching the Wall Street reform bill, a signature issue for Warren, will provoke a fight.
Zelizer said the White House might be able to “contain the differences between them most of the time, but when you deal with Dodd Frank, it’s an area Warren has shown she’ll speak out.”
Some of the president’s most passionate supporters have made clear they’re Ready for Warren: a collection of 300 former Obama campaign staffers this week wrote the senator an open letter urging her to run in 2016.
“When you have visible consternation, anger by [House Minority Leader Nancy] Pelosi as well as Warren and others within the democratic coalition, you've got to pay attention because if the president hopes to get things done, he needs a fairly unified coalition,” said Democratic strategist Peter Fenn. “And so you need to pay a lot of attention to these folks when it comes to appointment issues, when it comes to legislation affecting Wall Street issues.”
That’s likely why despite her open defiance of the president, the White House is eager to show that Obama and Warren are largely in simpatico.
--This report was updated at 7:02 p.m.