Warren pushes Dems to get tough with Trump

Warren pushes Dems to get tough with Trump
© Haiyun Jiang

Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth WarrenThe Memo: Biden faces tough road on pledge to heal nation Disney laying off 32,000 workers as coronavirus batters theme parks Kamala Harris, Stacey Abrams among nominees for Time magazine's 2020 Person of the Year MORE (D) is prodding her Democratic colleagues to take a hard line against President-elect Donald TrumpDonald John TrumpVenezuela judge orders prison time for 6 American oil executives Trump says he'll leave White House if Biden declared winner of Electoral College The Memo: Biden faces tough road on pledge to heal nation MORE — and she is receiving both plaudits and pushback for her efforts.

Vulnerable Democrats up for reelection in states that Trump won easily have signaled an early willingness to work with the president-elect and his party. Incoming Senate Democratic Leader Charles SchumerChuck SchumerUS national security policy in the 117th Congress and a new administration Voters say Biden should make coronavirus vaccine a priority: poll New York City subway service could be slashed 40 percent, officials warn MORE (N.Y.) has sought a middle path, suggesting he could find common ground with Republicans while cautioning that he will oppose them when they overreach.

Warren, by contrast, is exhorting her colleagues to “show some spine” and not “roll over” to drug companies and not “compromise with racism” by supporting Sen. Jeff SessionsJefferson (Jeff) Beauregard SessionsAlabama zeroes in on Richard Shelby's future Tuberville incorrectly says Gore was president-elect in 2000 Next attorney general must embrace marijuana law reforms MORE’s (R-Ala.) nomination to serve as attorney general.

In doing so, she is taking a page out of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellAs Biden administration ramps up, Trump legal effort drags on Harris says she has 'not yet' spoken to Pence Kamala Harris, Stacey Abrams among nominees for Time magazine's 2020 Person of the Year MORE’s (R-Ky.) playbook. He marshaled Republicans in 2009 to oppose President Obama’s agenda right out of the gate, blunting the new president’s policy momentum and helping the GOP win big in the 2010 midterm elections.

But McConnell also had to endure considerable criticism in the media and from the opposing party for pursuing an obstructionist approach so unashamedly. Warren may be met with a similar reaction.

Republicans argue that while McConnell may have opposed Obama’s early policies, he didn’t threaten to take any action on the floor to block his nominees, as Warren is calling on colleagues to do to stop Sessions from winning confirmation.

There are already signs of disquiet, even among some Democrats, about the ferocity of Warren's rhetoric.

“Elizabeth Warren does not represent the whole Democratic Party; she represents a very important wing of the party. But there are others of us who have a more pro-business [view], not a cave-in-to-Wall-Street thing,” said Rep. Gerald Connolly, a centrist Democrat from Virginia. “We don’t necessarily have that kind of ideological agenda.”

The Massachusetts senator has been much more emphatic than most of her fellow Democrats on Capitol Hill when it comes to criticizing the Trump administration.

On Wednesday, she ripped Trump’s pick to head the Treasury Department, financier Steven Mnuchin, as the “Forrest Gump” of the 2008 financial crisis who “managed to participate in all the worst practices on Wall Street.”

She called on Trump earlier this month to withdraw his nomination of Sessions to head the Justice Department. She noted that racist comments he allegedly made decades ago as U.S. attorney for Alabama prompted a Republican-controlled Senate Judiciary Committee to reject his nomination for a federal judgeship in 1986.

“[Thirty] yrs ago, a GOP Senate rejected @SenatorSessions’ judicial nomination, affirming no compromise with racism; no negotiation with hate,” Warren tweeted.

Even if Warren’s comments are rankling some more mainstream Democrats, they are being met with acclaim by progressives.

“I think she’s right on target with what she’s doing,” said Charles Chamberlain, executive director of Democracy for America, a liberal grassroots advocacy group.

“Across the board we need to stand up for our values, and that might mean obstruction, that might mean following the Mitch McConnell pathway used with Obama and saying to Donald Trump, ‘We’re not going to let you have successes because we know you’re going to use your small number of successes to force through terrible policies,’ ” he said. “Being obstructionist as a default is where we should start.”

Adam Green, co-founder of the Progressive Change Campaign Committee, struck a similar note.

“Elizabeth Warren has been thrust into this position of being a de facto leader and prime spokesperson for the Democratic Party. Part of what she’s doing is laying out the battle lines for what represents acceptable compromise versus outright capitulation,” Green said.

Like other Democrats, Warren initially expressed openness to working with Trump in the days after his surprise victory over Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonTrump says he'll leave White House if Biden declared winner of Electoral College Federal workers stuck it out with Trump — now, we're ready to get back to work Biden soars as leader of the free world MORE.

But as the new Trump administration began to take shape in the following days, she dug in her heels.

Trump’s appointment of his campaign CEO, Stephen Bannon, as a senior presidential adviser — which raised alarm among many Democrats who accused him of affiliation with white nationalists — further emboldened her.

“The president of the United States should condemn bigots, @realDonaldTrump. Not give them a West Wing office to decide our country’s future,” she tweeted.

Citing Clinton’s lead over Trump in the popular vote, Warren told colleagues on the Senate floor Monday, “The American people didn’t give Democrats majority support so we can come back to Washington and play dead. They didn’t send us here to whimper, whine or grovel.”

Warren is taking a strong stand this week against a bipartisan medical research funding bill, the 21st Century Cures Act, using it as a dress rehearsal for the bigger battles of next year.

In a scorching floor speech this week, Warren highlighted provisions of the legislation that would make it easier for pharmaceutical companies to market drugs for uses not approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA); obscure how much they spend on doctors and hospitals to encourage them to prescribe certain medications; and allow a major Republican donor to sell cellular and regenerative medical therapies without meeting current FDA standards.

Her stance was especially noteworthy considering how many Democrats support the bill, including Vice President Biden and Sen. Patty MurrayPatricia (Patty) Lynn MurrayNational reading, math tests postponed to 2022 amid coronavirus surge Democratic anger rises over Trump obstacles to Biden transition DOJ investigation into Epstein deal ends without recommended action MORE (Wash.), the ranking Democrat on the Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee.

But some Democrats endorse her approach wholeheartedly, seeing her as the Senate’s next liberal lion, a title last held by the late Sen. Ted Kennedy (D), who was also from Massachusetts.

“She’s a very powerful force in the Senate and certainly within the Senate Democratic Caucus,” said Senate Democratic Whip Dick DurbinDick DurbinThe Hill's Morning Report - Presented by the UAE Embassy in Washington, DC - COVID-19 fears surround Thanksgiving holiday Feinstein departure from top post sets stage for Judiciary fight Whitehouse says Democratic caucus will decide future of Judiciary Committee MORE (Ill.), who joined Warren on the floor Wednesday to raise concerns over the 21st Century Cures bill.

“In every generation of the Senate there are people who emerge as voices of authority and credibility. Look back at the past — Teddy Kennedy, for example. He was an extraordinary force in the Senate by virtue of his public career and his intellect and his will to move issues forward. I see Elizabeth Warren in the same mold,” he said.

Updated at 4:30 p.m.