Warren would give a middle finger to Wall Street as Clinton's vice-president

Suzanne McGee

Elizabeth Warren would bring strength to the Democratic ticket where it’s lacking – which may be bad news for fundraising but great news for galvanizing voters

Hillary Clinton is turning her attention to picking a running mate. Countless factors will weigh in that decision – from personal chemistry to party politics – but one of the most important will involve money, more specifically Wall Street money. And that leads, inexorably, to the consideration of Elizabeth Warren.

Based on Warren’s recent speeches and her deft engagements on Twitter, the Massachusetts senator would more than hold her own against Republican candidate Donald Trump. While he spluttered on Twitter last month about “Goofy Elizabeth Warren” and calling her “Pocahontas”, she jabbed him, repeatedly, on the issues, ending by declaring, “Your policies are dangerous. Your words are reckless. Your record is embarrassing. And your free ride is over.”

Now that Clinton has turned to criticizing Trump’s economic policies, plans and track record, she could benefit from Warren’s background as one of the country’s most prominent advocates for ordinary Americans. Repeatedly, long before she ever ran for elective office, Warren battled to bring attention to the plight of families crippled by subprime mortgages, credit cards with multiple penalty fees, overpriced auto loans and other products that banks and other lenders aggressively mis-sold.

Warren would bring to the Democratic ticket strength where it’s sorely lacking: a willingness to get tough with Wall Street that has haunted Clinton since it became known that she earned $675,000 for speaking to three Goldman Sachs client conferences. Clinton has refused to release the transcripts, but it’s reasonable to suppose that her comments were friendly to the bank, or she wouldn’t have been invited back. Besides, those who were there on one occasion have described her comments as being a “rah-rah speech” of the kind that a Goldman managing director might have delivered.

Descriptions like that and the perception of a cozy relationship with Wall Street were enough to damage Clinton’s primary campaign. Democratic and Republican voters may share one trait: an aversion to any candidate seen as being too cozy with the big banks. (Indeed, Trump’s suggestions that he makes debt and the bankruptcy code work for him, rather than having to toe the line laid down by the bankers, may explain some of his popular appeal to folks who can only wish they had the ability to do likewise.)

On the other hand, Warren rode to public attention by crusading for the creation of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. It was her brainchild, and she oversaw its construction, from scratch. To the extent that it is now reining in abusive lending practices and protecting consumers from fraud (its most recent endeavors involve payday lending, and it’s investigating prepaid credit cards), while providing guidance on banking fees and credit ratings, it’s thanks to Warren. The banks hate it like poison, and are becoming ever more creative in their efforts to weaken it.

So, enlisting Warren as her vice-president pick would certainly help Clinton to offset some of the vitriol her previous ties to Wall Street have provoked. She’s already trying to move in that direction. In her speech on Tuesday blasting Trump’s economic policies, she warned that “he’d rig the economy for Wall Street again. Well, that will not happen on my watch,” with a particular reference to Trump’s plan to dismantle the CFPB.

There’s a bonus: choosing Warren almost certainly would resonate with some of the supporters of Bernie Sanders, and help reconcile them to the fact that she seems almost certain to be the Democratic party’s standard-bearer in the November elections. In January, Sanders himself hinted that were he to become the nominee, he’d be happy to select her as a running mate, noting that “she has stood up to Wall Street”.

With all that in her favor, it’s hardly surprising that Warren is among those on Clinton’s VP shortlist. And she is apparently “intrigued” by the idea. The two will hit the campaign trail together in Ohio next week.

But what might be a great choice in terms of appealing to voters might prove to have difficult consequences. First, Charlie Baker, the Republican governor of Massachusetts, would appoint Warren’s interim replacement in the Senate. Clinton will also have to weigh style over substance when it comes to choosing her vice-president. If she has Warren by her side during the campaign, it’s the equivalent of brandishing a giant middle finger in the direction of Wall Street, whose prominent Democratic donors have pledged to keep their wallets closed for the campaign season in the event of a Clinton/Warren ticket. That may be bad news for fundraising but it could be great news for galvanizing voters – especially with that issue of the speech transcript still hanging over Clinton. How better to distance herself from that than to make a VP pick that Wall Street has told her they simply won’t tolerate?

On the other hand …

Clinton’s campaign platform includes a complex regulatory agenda for Wall Street, including finding ways to fill in the regulatory gaps that still exist, attempting to gain oversight of the “shadow banking” system, probing the risks of high frequency trading, and banning banks from investing in hedge funds. To achieve that, she’ll need allies in Congress that are willing to make enemies in the financial industry. As Warren has demonstrated repeatedly during her short tenure in the Senate, she has the knowledge, the tenacity and the sheer grit to fight those battles. And isn’t it a more effective use of resource to fight them from the Senate floor?

If Clinton bypasses Warren, therefore, and moves on to select someone else from her rather rich shortlist of VP candidates, odds are it’s because either she or Warren have run that calculus and not because – as some probably will conclude – that Wall Street told her she couldn’t choose Warren as a running mate. (She’s doing just fine raising cash, relative to Donald Trump, and Wall Street, by and large is no fan of Trump, either.) There are plenty of reasons for Clinton to select someone from the progressive wing the Democratic party, with a track record of speaking out strongly for the economic interests of ordinary Americans; someone who isn’t a career politician.

So if Warren ends up remaining in the Senate, it’s probably due to one of two reasons. Either Clinton has decided that while Warren might be an asset in appealing to voters, once the election is over, her absence from the Senate would be too great a loss, given the nature and magnitude of Clinton’s Wall Street and economic agendas. Or Warren herself has concluded that in order to be effective in actually reining in Wall Street, she’d be far better off in Congress rather than occupying a post that Franklin Roosevelt’s vice-president John Nance Garner once described, as not being worth “a pitcher of warm spit”.