Talk Softly, Swing A Big Tweet: Elizabeth Warren's Unconventional Messaging | KUOW News and Information

Talk Softly, Swing A Big Tweet: Elizabeth Warren's Unconventional Messaging

May 26, 2016
Originally published on June 2, 2016 9:41 am

One of the most talked about politicians this election year is a woman who is not even on the ballot — Democratic Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts. As her name is being thrown around as a possible VP pick for Hillary Clinton, there's an argument to be made that Warren doesn't even need the job. Plenty of her colleagues say she already exerts enormous influence from her perch in the Senate.

Warren may not be running for president, but right now there's probably no one in the Democratic Party who takes more delight in publicly ripping into Donald Trump. And Trump has ripped right back into her, calling her "Pocahontas" and saying she's an ineffective senator with a "big mouth."

At a gala for the Center for Popular Democracy this week, she summed up the billionaire with words that instantly went viral: "A small, insecure money grubber who doesn't care who gets hurts so long as he makes a profit."

Warren hammered Trump for saying in 2007 that he was excited for the housing market to collapse so he could make a lot of money.

"What kind of man does that?" Warren exclaimed. "What kind of man roots for people to get thrown out of their house? What kind of man roots for people to get thrown out of their jobs? To root for people to lose their pensions? ... It is a man that cares about no one but himself."

If it sounds like it's getting personal, check out Warren's Twitter feed — where she's already called Trump a sexist, racist, xenophobic "bully."

All this has clearly gotten under Trump's skin — he couldn't resist hitting back in Anaheim on Wednesday.

"I call her goofy. She is ... goofy," Trump said. "She gets less done than anybody in the United States Senate. She gets nothing done, nothing passed. She's got a big mouth, and that's about it. But they use her because Hillary's trying to be very presidential."

An Outspoken Messenger Who 'Doesn't Talk Very Much'

Warren has become one of the most aggressive anti-Trump voices in her party. But inside the Senate hallways, she doesn't behave like a woman who wants to be heard.

She's famous for avoiding reporters in the Capitol. She dashes through the building avoiding eye contact with them. Most of the Capitol Hill reporters have fallen in line and don't even try asking her questions in the hallways anymore. The ones who do dare venture up to her often find a Warren aide suddenly wedging in and explaining that the senator isn't available to talk at the moment.

Because Warren is a woman who holds the press at arm's length, it might have seemed a touch ironic when Democratic Leader Harry Reid chose her to be the messenger for the progressive wing of the party. Warren stepped into that leadership position barely two years into her first term.

Reid said Warren is simply strategic about when to speak.

"She's an effective messenger because, No. 1, she doesn't talk very much," said Reid. "I find — maybe I'm being judgmental — but I think when people talk too much, their message is lost. She doesn't talk very much. But when she talks, people listen."

Launching Causes

Reid says even during internal caucus meetings, Warren is very quiet. She speaks up with her colleagues only in deliberate moments.

"People think she's a big talker. She isn't," said Reid. "In our caucus, I have some people who raise their hands all the time. They want to be recognized. But not Elizabeth."

And her supporters say that strategic use of her influence has made her a powerful validator in the caucus — someone who can breathe new life into a cause simply by jumping on, whether it's Wall Street reform, expanding Social Security or reducing student debt.

Senate Democratic leaders say Warren took a lead role on the issue of student debt especially.

"She can take an issue and launch it into the stratosphere," said Democratic Sen. Brian Schatz of Hawaii, who crafted a student loan bill with her. "You can be working on it and it can be important and you can be right. But when Elizabeth comes to the table, you know it's about to be ready for takeoff."

Influence As A Fundraiser

She doesn't just launch issues. Democrats say she can also launch candidates. Warren is one of the top fundraisers in her caucus. During the 2014 midterms, she raked in more than $6 million for Democratic Senate, House and gubernatorial candidates and party committees.

This election cycle, Warren's Leadership PAC has given away about a quarter-million dollars; her office says that amount represents just a small portion of her overall fundraising efforts so far, which include fundraising events, campaign appearances and — most important — emails.

Adam Green, co-founder of the Progressive Change Campaign Committee, said unlike many senators, Warren can instantly activate a vast national network every time she hits send on an email.

"It doesn't take much of her time to send out an email that raises $25,000 each for three U.S. Senate candidates, something that would take those candidates weeks to do," said Green.

Democrats say they have a shot at taking back control of the Senate this year, and their candidates hope Warren's light will make them shine. They invoke her name in emails, want her on the campaign trail and run ads featuring her singing their praises.

There's no question, Warren has emerged as one of 2016's biggest influencers. And now she is perceived as the person who can best unify Clinton's supporters with those of Bernie Sanders.

But there's one big question she never quite answers. What is Elizabeth Warren's endgame?

"I think her main goal is to be a good senator from Massachusetts. I don't think she has aspirations beyond that," Reid said.

I wonder what Elizabeth Warren would say to that — if she ever talked to me.

Copyright 2018 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

It's so interesting. One of the most talked about politicians this election year is a woman who is not even on the ballot - Democratic Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts. Remember this?

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED BROADCAST)

ELIZABETH WARREN: I am not running for president. No means no.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

WARREN: I'm not running, and I'm not going to run.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

WARREN: Like I said, I'm not running for president.

GREENE: Well, she answered that question. Well, now Warren's name is getting thrown around as a possible vice presidential pick for Hillary Clinton. But as NPR's Ailsa Chang reports, Warren's Senate colleagues say she already has a lot of power right where she is.

AILSA CHANG, BYLINE: Elizabeth Warren may not be running for president, but right now there's probably no one in the Democratic Party who takes more delight publicly ripping into Donald Trump. Here she is summing him up this week at a gala for the Center for Popular Democracy.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

WARREN: A small, insecure, money grubber who doesn't care who gets hurt so long as he makes a profit off it.

(CHEERING, APPLAUSE)

WARREN: What kind of a man does that - a man who will never be president of the United States.

(CHEERING)

CHANG: If that sounds personal, check out Warren's Twitter feed where she called Trump a sexist, racist, xenophobic bully. All of this is clearly getting under Trump's skin. He couldn't resist hitting back in Anaheim yesterday.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

DONALD TRUMP: I call her goofy. She is - no, no - goofy. She gets less done than anybody in the United States Senate. She gets nothing done, nothing passed. She's got a big mouth, and that's about it. But they use her because Hillary is trying to be very presidential. She's...

CHANG: Elizabeth Warren has become one of the most aggressive anti-Trump voices in her party. But inside the Senate hallways, she doesn't act like a woman who wants to be heard. She's famous for avoiding reporters.

Senator Warren, can I talk to you about your...

(CROSSTALK)

WARREN: OK, I'm sorry. I'm on the phone.

CHANG: She tells me she's on the phone, but I actually don't see a phone.

Senator Warren...

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #1: Like I said, I'm so sorry. The senator's...

CHANG: Sometimes her aides even gracefully get in a reporter's way.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #2: I'm sorry. She's, you know, just heading into the event right now.

CHANG: This is a woman who holds the press at arm's length. So it seemed ironic when Democratic leader Harry Reid chose her to be the messenger for the progressive wing of the party.

What makes her such an effective messenger? Is it the content of her ideas, or is there something about her style?

HARRY REID: She's an effective messenger because, number one, she doesn't talk very much, and we find - I say, I find - maybe I'm being judgmental, but I think people talk too much. Their message is lost. She doesn't talk very much, but when she talks, people listen.

CHANG: Reid says even during internal caucus meetings, Warren is really quiet. She speaks up with her colleagues only in very deliberate moments, and her supporters say that has made her a powerful validator, someone who can breathe new life into a cause simply by jumping on, whether it's Wall Street reform, expanding Social Security or reducing student debt. Democrat Brian Schatz of Hawaii crafted a student loan bill with her.

BRIAN SCHATZ: She can take an issue and launch it into the stratosphere. You can be working on it, and it can be important. And you can be right. But when Elizabeth comes to the table, you know it's about to be ready for takeoff.

CHANG: She doesn't just launch issues. She can also launch candidates because Warren raises a ton of money. During the 2014 midterms, she raked in more than $6 million for Democratic candidates. Adam Green, who's cofounder of the Progressive Change Campaign Committee, says Warren activates a vast national network every time she hits send on an email.

ADAM GREEN: You know, it doesn't take much of her time to send out an email that raises $25,000 each for three U.S. Senate candidates, something that would take those candidate weeks to do.

CHANG: Democrats say they have a shot at taking back control of the Senate this year, and their candidates hope Warren's light will make them shine. They invoke her name and emails, want her on the campaign trail and run ads featuring Warren singing their praises. Take a listen to a couple from California and Illinois.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

WARREN: Kamala Harris was fearless.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #2: Kamala Harris for Senate.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

WARREN: I'm supporting Tammy Duckworth for Senate because she's tough, and she's strong, and she's principled.

CHANG: There's no question Warren has emerged as one of 2016's biggest influencers. And now she's perceived as the person who can best bridge the divide between Clinton supporters and of Bernie Sanders. But there's one big question she never quite answers. I posed it to Reid.

Why do you think Elizabeth Warren wants, ultimately, all this drive? What is her end game?

REID: I think her main goal is to be a good senator from Massachusetts. I don't think she has any aspirations beyond that.

CHANG: I wonder what Elizabeth Warren would say to that if she ever talked to me. Ailsa Chang, NPR News, the Capitol. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.