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Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s crusade against the $1.1 trillion spending bill backed by the White House firmly establishes the Massachusetts populist as a powerful player in Washington.

The freshman Democrat took on President Obama and her party’s leadership, and appeared to inspire an uprising in the House.

{mosads}The fight earned her comparisons to Texas firebrand Republican Sen. Ted Cruz, another relative newcomer to the Senate who has shown outsized clout in his party.  

Warren lost the battle in the House when the spending bill was approved in a late-night 219-206 vote, and the fight is now moving to Warren’s turf in the Senate.

If she continues to fight hard against the bill, it will pull her into a deeper clash with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), who backed the spending deal and has just named Warren to his leadership team.

She may also be in battle with Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), the third-ranking member of the Democratic leadership and a possible rival to Warren who represents New York’s powerful financial industry.

Peter Ubertaccio, a political science professor at Stonehill College in Massachusetts, who follows Warren’s career, said that this week, Warren demonstrated a better feel for the sentiments of her party than her leadership.

“If she’s able to succeed in the Senate at the expense of her own leadership team — the team that she’s on — it will have the practical impact of moving the center of power away from folks like Schumer and toward her,” he said. “That’s pretty significant for a freshman senator that’s been brought into the leadership.

It could also reverberate in the 2016 presidential race, which liberal Democrats are dying for Warren to enter as a rival to former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

David Paleologos, the director of the Suffolk University Political Research Center, said Warren is now a national figure in a tradition of influential Massachusetts politicians who have run for president such as former Sen. Ted Kennedy (D), former Gov. Michael Dukakis (D), former Gov. Mitt Romney (R), former Sen. John Kerry (D) and former Sen. Paul Tsongas (D).

Warren’s efforts also carried risks, and rubbed some Democrats the wrong way. Critics saw her efforts as a play for media attention ahead of a potential presidential campaign — something that Warren has repeatedly expressed no interest in pursuing.  

“I have to assume Elizabeth Warren is running for president. That’s what you do when you run for president. You get out front,” said Rep. Jim Moran (D-Va.), a senior member of the House Appropriations Committee who backed the spending bill opposed by Warren.

Warren exhorted fellow Democrats to defeat the spending bill because it repealed a key provision of the 2010 Dodd-Frank Wall Street reform law. The change would allow big banks covered by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation to trade in derivatives, which Warren said would increase the chances of a financial crisis and bailout.

Opposition among Democrats built and built after Warren declared war on the measure. 

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi’s (D-Calif.) position appeared to harden to the point on Thursday where she delivered a tough floor speech announcing her opposition and harshly criticizing the White House.

Maybe that would have happened without Warren, but lawmakers in the trenches believe she made a difference.

“She was very influential,” Moran said.

David Di Martino, a Democratic strategist and former Senate aide, warned Warren’s battle with party leaders could have a downside.  

“I think Sen. Warren has recognized here is an opportunity to be the voice of the progressive side of the Democratic coalition and she’s taken full advantage,” he said.  

“She’s definitely flexing her muscles but she needs to pick her battle. The Dodd-Frank issue is one that people can get behind but you can’t pick that kind of a fight every day and ultimately be successful,” he added.

Senate Appropriations Committee Chairwoman Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.) was one colleague who didn’t seem to appreciate Warren’s criticism of the spending bill.

“After hours and hours the last several days I have heard what is wrong with this bill,” she said. “Now we’ve got to start talking about what are the good aspects of this bill.”

Hours of pent-up frustration appeared to boil over as Mikulski ticked off the benefits of the bill, her voice rising to a shout as she declared, “we wanted to … fight Ebola, which had the American people near panic this summer!”

Much like Warren did with House liberals this week, Cruz rallied House conservatives last year to block a year-end government funding measure that allowed the implementation of healthcare reform to proceed.

The episode vaulted him into the national spotlight and made him popular with many conservatives. But many of his colleagues were furious over what they saw as politically selfish behavior.

“She did something very similar to what Cruz did last year, using her power and stature in the Senate to message to the House progressives,” said a Senate GOP aide.

Warren’s allies reject the comparison, however. They argue that her stand against a policy rider that could put taxpayers on the hook for future bank bailouts had bipartisan support while Cruz’s mission to block ObamaCare was purely partisan.

Republican Sen. David Vitter (La.) signed on to a letter Thursday urging Senate and House leaders to strip the Dodd-Frank language from the spending bill.

“Ending ‘too big to fail’ is far from over. Before Congress starts handing out Christmas presents to the megabanks and Wall Street — we need to be smart about this,” he said.

Tags 2016 presidential campaign Barack Obama Charles Schumer Elizabeth Warren Harry Reid Lame-duck Congress Nancy Pelosi Wall Street reform

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