Elizabeth Warren is back in the center of Democratic politics after staying conspicuously neutral during the party’s presidential primary, as many wonder if Hillary Clinton will choose the Massachusetts senator as her vice presidential nominee.
What Clinton wants in a No. 2 pick is murky. Aides say she’s looking for someone who can take the fight to presumptive Republican nominee Donald Trump and help govern, though several people fit that bill.
Picking Warren could help win over Bernie Sanders supporters and energize women and the progressive base. But Warren may not be the loyal sidekick presidential nominees often look for, and it’s unknown how voters would react to an all-female ticket.
What Warren wants, however, is clearer -- even though it’s a topic of open debate among allies whether being vice president is the best way to achieve it. Either way, if Clinton won the presidency with Warren as a running mate, she would have to contend with Warren's agenda.
Warren’s focus is obviously on Wall Street reform. But few non-wonks realize that in a time of congressional gridlock, the senator has turned her attention away from legislation to the esoteric and decidedly unglamorous world of government appointments.
“Appointments to policy positions and enforcement positions are what Elizabeth Warren cares about the most,” said Brad Miller, a former congressman and close ally of Warren’s on Capitol Hill.
Warren allies regret giving President Obama a pass on appointments and say they won’t make the same mistake with Clinton. “I don't think that on economic policy positions, Secretary Clinton as president will get even a 10-minute honeymoon,” said Miller.
The next president will make more than 4,000 appointments throughout the government, and who fills those roles will be a key front line in liberals’ ongoing attempts to drag Clinton to the left.
“Personnel is policy,” Warren wrote in a New York Times op-ed. “Legislative agendas matter, but voters should also ask which presidential candidates they trust with the extraordinary power to choose who will fight on the front lines to enforce the laws.”
Vice presidents have little constitutional authority. John Garner, Franklin Roosevelt's vice president, famously declared the position “is not worth a bucket of warm spit.” And Warren’s power as vice president would be only what Clinton gives her.
Warren and her allies have already proven an ability to influence appointments from the outside. They pushed Larry Summers out of the Federal Reserve chair and then sank the nomination of a an obscure Treasury Department appointee, Antonio Weiss, by forcing him to withdraw from consideration, essentially to make an example out of him because he had worked in the financial industry.
“Warren has demonstrated an interest in monitoring every nook and cranny of the government,” said Jeff Hauser, who runs the Revolving Door Project at the liberal Center for Economic and Policy Research, which monitors industry executives who are given government appointments. “The laws are in place to crack down on the worst behaviors of the 1 percent -- the question is whether and how those laws are going to be enforced.”
On the other hand, where better to exert influence over the bureaucracy than from its top and inside the room where appointments will be chosen? If given the prerogative, Warren could wield far greater authority from the inside than out -- but that’s a big if.