Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s meteoric political rise as a liberal rabble-rouser landed her a job on Senate Democrats’ leadership team Thursday, as the party voted to return all of the top leaders who presided over last week’s devastating election losses.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid named Ms. Warren as a strategic adviser to help craft the message at the Democratic Policy and Communications Committee. The newly created post was designed to infuse the chamber’s new Democratic minority with Ms. Warren’s liberal vigor.
“Somebody asked me on the way in here, ‘Elizabeth Warren is going to be part of your leadership; what do you expect her to do?’ I expect her to be Elizabeth Warren,” Mr. Reid, Nevada Democrat, said at the Capitol when announcing the move.
Ms. Warren, a freshman with just two years in the Senate under her belt, didn’t disappoint, stepping past Mr. Reid to address a crowd of reporters waiting to hear the leadership election results.
“I believe in what the Democrats are fighting for. You know, Wall Street is doing very well, CEOs are bringing in millions more, and families all across this country are struggling,” she said. “We have to make this government work for the American people. And that’s what we’re here to fight for. And I am grateful to the leader. I am grateful to the caucus for giving me a chance to be part of that fight.”
Already sounding like Ms. Warren, Mr. Reid and the rest of the returned leadership team pledged that in the minority next year, they will strive to improve the lives of middle-class Americans.
Mr. Reid and his fellow Democrats have already signaled a new approach for the rest of this year, where they remain in control in the Senate’s lame-duck session.
He has agreed to allow votes on building the Keystone XL pipeline and on a bill to cancel the National Security Agency’s phone-snooping program — both of which had been delayed for months amid internal Democratic Party tensions ahead of the midterm vote.
Even as Mr. Reid moved to get past those fights, Republicans are embroiled in one of their own: whether to use a looming spending debate to try to prevent President Obama from taking unilateral executive action to grant work permits to illegal immigrants.
Pressure is growing on GOP leaders from party conservatives to insist that the spending bill include such language, but that could force a government shutdown showdown similar to last year’s Obamacare fight. Incoming Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, the Kentucky Republican who will take over running the chamber from Mr. Reid in January, flatly ruled out going that far.
Among Democrats, the 65-year-old Ms. Warren is a rising star. The Harvard law professor in 2012 captured the Senate seat once occupied by the late Sen. Edward Kennedy, defeating tea party darling Sen. Scott Brown.
Ms. Warren ran for the Senate after watching Republicans attack her for her work setting up the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, a part of the Wall Street overhaul legislation that passed after the 2008 crash. Republicans say the CFPB has too much unchecked power, and their opposition helped prod Mr. Obama to pick someone else to head the agency, passing over Ms. Warren, who’d been interim director for a year.
On the campaign trail this year, Ms. Warren’s populist stump speech was in high demand. Progressives have looked to her as a potential challenger to Hillary Rodham Clinton for the Democratic nomination for president in 2016, though she insists she’s not interested in a White House run.
Adding her to the leadership team both lent some of her star power to the familiar Senate Democratic leadership lineup and placated liberals who want to see the party’s leaders tilt in a more progressive direction.
“Elizabeth Warren was the most popular campaigner this cycle for a reason: She advocates for big ideas like reforming Wall Street, making college affordable and expanding Social Security benefits,” said Laura Friedenbach of the Progressive Change Campaign Committee, a liberal advocacy group that has been a strong backer of Ms. Warren’s political rise.
“Now her voice will be even louder, because she’ll be at the Democratic leadership table — and the Democratic Party will benefit from it,” said Ms. Friedenbach. “The path to victory for Democrats in 2016 is to campaign on Elizabeth Warren’s economic populist agenda.”
Her appointment also resonated with liberal senators.
“Her voice is a very important voice,” said Sen. Benjamin L. Cardin, Maryland Democrat. “What needs to be changed is how effective we are representing the values of middle-income families. We’ve got to be more effective in doing that. That’s our base.”
Mr. Reid also sought to balance the new leadership team — or temper the influence of Ms. Warren — by appointing Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar as a special liaison to Republicans. She’s a popular lawmaker on Capitol Hill, known for working across the aisle.
“The idea here is to break through the gridlock, to start having votes again,” said Ms. Klobuchar. “We will take [Republicans] at their word when they say they want to move with us and move this economy forward and get going. I think it’s an opportunity. And we need to seize it.”
Opposition to Reid
The appointments were announced following a four-hour caucus meeting where Senate Democrats aired their grievances about gridlock in the chamber under Mr. Reid. They then re-elected him as their leader for when the new Congress convenes in January.
Mr. Reid did not face a challenger in leadership vote. But at least five Senate Democrats opposed him in the secret ballot vote.
Senators who admitted voting “no” were Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota, Joe Manchin III of West Virginia, Claire McCaskill of Missouri, Mark R. Warner of Virginia and Mary L. Landrieu of Louisiana, who is in an uphill battle to keep her seat in a Dec. 6 runoff election against a Republican challenger.
“When you have an election like this, common sense says we need to change things,” Ms. McCaskill said in an interview. “The [electorate’s] voice was very loud and unmistakable that most Americans and most Missourians want to change things. To me, that means changing leadership, and it was just that simple.”
Still, Mr. Reid and the rest of the leadership team won support from most of the caucus, which is expected to include 46 members in the new minority.
The caucus returned Sen. Richard J. Durbin of Illinois as assistant leader, Sen. Charles E. Schumer of New York as chairman of the DPCC, Sen. Patty Murray of Washington as chairwoman of the conference and Sen. Debbie Stabenow of Michigan as vice chairwoman of the DPCC.
House and Senate Republicans also voted Thursday to return their leadership teams essentially intact, confirming Mr. McConnell as the new Senate majority leader and keeping House Speaker John A. Boehner of Ohio as the top official in the House.