- The Washington Times - Sunday, June 15, 2014

She has flatly stated she won’t run for president in 2016, but Sen. Elizabeth Warren nonetheless is emerging as one of her party’s most influential members, armed with a potent message of economic populism that has rapidly made her a hero to many on the progressive left.

On three occasions last week, President Obama praised the Massachusetts Democrat by name while promoting her ill-fated college loan reform bill. The measure died in the Senate amid Republican opposition Wednesday but was a perfect example of Warren politics: Raise taxes on the rich to lower the costs of college loan payments for average Americans.

Although the measure failed, Ms. Warren took full advantage of the opportunity to promote herself as the voice of the 99 percent and further raise her profile within the Democratic Party as she appeared behind a podium alongside Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid.

“Today is a really good day for billionaires,” she said. “For the 40 million people dealing with student loan debt, it wasn’t such a good day. This raises the fundamental question: Who does Washington work for? Does it work for those who can hire armies of lobbyists to make sure every single loophole in the tax code is protected for them? Or does it work for young people who are trying to get started in life?”

Despite her brief tenure in the Senate — she was elected in November 2012, besting Republican Scott Brown — Ms. Warren already has carved out a niche as the fiercest anti-Wall Street crusader on Capitol Hill, a reputation she began building during her career as a Harvard Law School professor.

In some ways, she has become something of a liberal gold standard, a spot in politics previously occupied by Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, whose seat Ms. Warren now holds.

With her populist message, analysts say, Ms. Warren was the right candidate at the right time, giving voice to the frustrations of voters who felt the leaders in both major political parties were too closely aligned with the rich and powerful.

A few years after the 2008 economic collapse and subsequent bailout of U.S. banks, some Americans, particularly those on the left who identified with the Occupy Wall Street movement, were eager to throw their support behind a candidate like Ms. Warren.

“She was the one who was perfectly placed. She was trying for so long and nobody wanted to listen to her. She started this,” said Samuel Popkin, a political science professor at the University of California, San Diego, who served as a consultant to the Clinton and Gore presidential campaigns. “Warren was perfectly placed to really push the line.”

Even if she sticks by her declaration to not seek the White House in two years, Ms. Warren still will make a major impact on the direction of her party. In many ways, she already has.

The increasingly powerful Progressive Change Campaign Committee is pushing Democratic candidates closely aligned with Ms. Warren’s views while hawking T-shirts with the message: “I’m from the Elizabeth Warren wing of the Democratic Party.”

The campaign committee and other progressive groups have made clear that Democrats running for president in 2016 — including the party’s presumed front-runner, Hillary Rodham Clinton — will be judged against Ms. Warren.

“The Elizabeth Warren wing of American politics is on the rise. From the moment Elizabeth Warren set foot in Washington, she changed the national conversation by fearlessly standing up to powerful interests on behalf of everyday people — fighting to make college affordable, expand Social Security benefits, and reform Wall Street,” said Adam Green, co-founder of the Progressive Change Campaign Committee. “President Obama and Democratic candidates nationwide are embracing Warren’s economic populist message because it is popular with Americans and is what our nation needs.”

Indeed, the president latched on to Ms. Warren’s student loan reform bill last week and urged Americans to contact their representatives and push them to support the legislation.

The measure would have allowed borrowers to refinance their loans at current, lower rates, reducing monthly payments substantially.

A day before the bill came up for a vote in the Senate and subsequently died, the president went out of his way to promote it during a question-and-answer session with Tumblr founder David Karp.

“This week there will be a vote in the United States Senate on a bill sponsored by Elizabeth Warren, the senator from Massachusetts. And what this bill would do would allow students to refinance their existing loans at today’s rates,” Mr. Obama said.

“It’s a good piece of legislation. It directly affects folks in their 20s and 30s, and in some cases their 40s and 50s and 60s. Make sure that you are pushing your senators around this issue,” he said.

Ms. Warren’s office did not respond to a request for comment from The Washington Times.

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