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United States Democratic Senator from Massachusetts
In 2012, Warren defeated incumbent Republican Scott Brown and became the first female U.S. senator from Massachusetts. She won reelection by a wide margin in 2018, defeating Republican nominee Geoff Diehl. On February 9, 2019, Warren announced her candidacy in the 2020 United States presidential election. She was briefly considered the front-runner for the Democratic nomination in late 2019, but support for her campaign dwindled. She withdrew from the race on March 5, 2020, after Super Tuesday.
Warren lived in Norman, Oklahoma, until she was 11 years old, when her family moved back to Oklahoma City. When she was 12, her father, then a salesman at Montgomery Ward, had a heart attack, which led to many medical bills as well as a pay cut because he could not do his previous work. After leaving his sales job, he worked as a maintenance man for an apartment building. Eventually, the family's car was repossessed because they failed to make loan payments. To help the family finances, her mother found work in the catalog-order department at Sears. When she was 13, Warren started waiting tables at her aunt's restaurant.
Warren became a star member of the debate team at Northwest Classen High School and won the state high school debating championship. She also won a debate scholarship to George Washington University (GWU) at the age of 16. She initially aspired to be a teacher, but left GWU after two years in 1968 to marry James Robert "Jim" Warren, whom she had met in high school.
The Warrens divorced in 1978, and two years later, Warren married law professor Bruce H. Mann on July 12, 1980, but kept her first husband's surname. Warren has three grandchildren through her daughter Amelia.
On April 23, 2020, Warren announced on Twitter that her eldest brother, Don Reed Herring, had died of COVID-19 two days earlier.
In 1970, after obtaining a degree in speech pathology and audiology, but before enrolling in law school (see above), Warren taught children with disabilities for a year in a public school. During law school, she worked as a summer associate at Cadwalader, Wickersham & Taft. After receiving her J.D. and passing the bar examination, Warren offered legal services from home, writing wills and doing real estate closings.
In the late 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s, Warren taught law at several American universities while researching issues related to bankruptcy and middle-class personal finance. She became involved with public work in bankruptcy regulation and consumer protection in the mid-1990s.
Warren's earliest academic work was heavily influenced by the law and economics movement, which aimed to apply neoclassical economic theory to the study of law with an emphasis on economic efficiency. One of her articles, published in 1980 in the Notre Dame Law Review, argued that public utilities were over-regulated and that automatic utility rate increases should be instituted. But Warren soon became a proponent of on-the-ground research into how people respond to laws. Her work analyzing court records and interviewing judges, lawyers, and debtors, established her as a rising star in the field of bankruptcy law. According to Warren and economists who follow her work, one of her key insights was that rising bankruptcy rates were caused not by profligate consumer spending but by middle-class families' attempts to buy homes in good school districts. Warren worked in this field alongside colleagues Teresa A. Sullivan and Jay Westbrook, and the trio published their research in the book As We Forgive Our Debtors in 1989. Warren later recalled that she had begun her research believing that most people filing for bankruptcy were either working the system or had been irresponsible in incurring debts, but that she concluded that such abuse was in fact rare and that the legal framework for bankruptcy was poorly designed, describing the way the research challenged her fundamental beliefs as "worse than disillusionment" and "like being shocked at a deep-down level". In 2004, she published an article in the Washington University Law Review in which she argued that correlating middle-class struggles with over-consumption was a fallacy.
Warren joined the University of Pennsylvania Law School as a full professor in 1987 and obtained an endowed chair in 1990, becoming the William A. Schnader Professor of Commercial Law. In 1992, she taught for a year at Harvard Law School as Robert Braucher Visiting Professor of Commercial Law. In 1995, Warren left Penn to become Leo Gottlieb Professor of Law at Harvard Law School. In 1996 she became the highest-paid professor at Harvard University who was not an administrator, with a $181,300 salary and total compensation of $291,876, including moving expenses and an allowance in lieu of benefits contributions. As of 2011[update], she was Harvard's only tenured law professor who had attended law school at an American public university. Warren was a highly influential law professor. She published in many fields, but her expertise was in bankruptcy and commercial law. From 2005 to 2009 Warren was among the three most-cited scholars in those fields.
She began to rise in prominence in 2004 with an appearance on the Dr. Phil show, and published several books including The Two Income Trap.
In 1995, the National Bankruptcy Review Commission's chair, former congressman Mike Synar, asked Warren to advise the commission. Synar had been a debate opponent of Warren's during their school years. She helped draft the commission's report and worked for several years to oppose legislation intended to severely restrict consumers' right to file for bankruptcy. Warren and others opposing the legislation were not successful; in 2005, Congress passed the Bankruptcy Abuse Prevention and Consumer Protection Act of 2005, which curtailed consumers' ability to file for bankruptcy.
From 2006 to 2010, Warren was a member of the FDIC (Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation) Advisory Committee on Economic Inclusion. She is a member of the National Bankruptcy Conference, an independent organization that advises the U.S. Congress on bankruptcy law, a former vice president of the American Law Institute and a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.
A close high-school friend told Politico in 2019 that in high school Warren was a "diehard conservative" and that she had since done a "180-degree turn and an about-face". One of her colleagues at the University of Texas in Austin said that at university in the early 1980s Warren was "sometimes surprisingly anti-consumer in her attitude".Gary L. Francione, who had been a colleague of hers at the University of Pennsylvania, recalled in 2019 that when he heard her speak at the time she was becoming politically prominent, he "almost fell off [his] chair... She's definitely changed". Warren was registered as a Republican from 1991 to 1996. She voted Republican for many years. "I was a Republican because I thought that those were the people who best supported markets", she has said. But she has also said that in the six presidential elections before 1996 she voted for the Republican nominee only once, in 1976, for Gerald Ford. Warren has said that she began to vote Democratic in 1995 because she no longer believed that the Republicans were the party who best supported markets, but she has said she has voted for both parties because she believed that neither should dominate. According to Warren, she left the Republican Party because it is no longer "principled in its conservative approach to economics and to markets" and is instead tilting the playing field in favor of large financial institutions and against middle-class American families.
There is nobody in this country who got rich on his own. Nobody. ... You moved your goods to market on the roads the rest of us paid for; you hired workers the rest of us paid to educate; you were safe in your factory because of police forces and fire forces that the rest of us paid for. You didn't have to worry that marauding bands would come and seize everything at your factory, and hire someone to protect against this, because of the work the rest of us did. Now look, you built a factory and it turned into something terrific, or a great idea. God bless. Keep a big hunk of it. But part of the underlying social contract is, you take a hunk of that and pay forward for the next kid who comes along.
Warren ran unopposed for the Democratic nomination and won it on June 2, 2012, at the state Democratic convention with a record 95.77% of the votes of delegates. She encountered significant opposition from business interests. In August, the political director for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce commented that "no other candidate in 2012 represents a greater threat to free enterprise than Professor Warren". Warren nonetheless raised $39 million for her campaign, more than any other Senate candidate in 2012, and showed, according to The New York Times, "that it was possible to run against the big banks without Wall Street money and still win".
Warren received a prime-time speaking slot at the 2012 Democratic National Convention on September 5, 2012. She positioned herself as a champion of a beleaguered middle class that "has been chipped, squeezed, and hammered". According to Warren, "People feel like the system is rigged against them. And here's the painful part: They're right. The system is rigged." Warren said Wall Street CEOs "wrecked our economy and destroyed millions of jobs" and that they "still strut around congress, no shame, demanding favors, and acting like we should thank them".
On January 6, 2017, in an email to supporters, Warren announced that she would be running for a second term as a U.S. senator from Massachusetts, writing, "The people of Massachusetts didn't send me to Washington to roll over and play dead while Donald Trump and his team of billionaires, bigots, and Wall Street bankers crush the working people of our Commonwealth and this country. ... This is no time to quit."
In the 2018 election, Warren defeated Republican nominee Geoff Diehl, 60% to 36%.
On November 6, 2012, Warren defeated Brown with 53.7% of the vote. She is the first woman ever elected to the U.S. Senate from Massachusetts, as part of a sitting U.S. Senate that had 20 female senators in office, the largest female U.S. Senate delegation in history at the time, following the November 2012 elections. In December 2012, Warren was assigned a seat on the Senate Banking Committee, which oversees the implementation of Dodd-Frank and other regulation of the banking industry. Vice President Joe Biden swore Warren in on January 3, 2013.
At Warren's first Banking Committee hearing in February 2013, she pressed several banking regulators to say when they had last taken a Wall Street bank to trial and said, "I'm really concerned that 'too big to fail' has become 'too big for trial'." Videos of Warren's questioning amassed more than one million views in a matter of days. At a March Banking Committee hearing, Warren asked Treasury Department officials why criminal charges were not brought against HSBC for its money laundering practices. Warren compared money laundering to drug possession, saying: "If you're caught with an ounce of cocaine, the chances are good you're going to go to jail ... But evidently, if you launder nearly a billion dollars for drug cartels and violate our international sanctions, your company pays a fine and you go home and sleep in your own bed at night."
In May 2013, Warren sent letters to the Justice Department, the Securities and Exchange Commission, and the Federal Reserve questioning their decisions that settling would be more fruitful than going to court. Also in May, saying that students should get "the same great deal that banks get", Warren introduced the Bank on Student Loans Fairness Act, which would allow students to take out government education loans at the same rate that banks pay to borrow from the federal government, 0.75%.Independent senator Bernie Sanders endorsed her bill, saying: "The only thing wrong with this bill is that [she] thought of it and I didn't".
During the 2014 election cycle, Warren was a top Democratic fundraiser. After the election, Warren was appointed to become the first-ever Strategic Adviser of the Democratic Policy and Communications Committee, a position created for her. The appointment added to speculation that Warren would run for president in 2016.
In early 2015, President Obama urged Congress to approve the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a proposed free trade agreement between the United States and 11 Asian and South American countries. Warren criticized the TPP, arguing that the dispute resolution mechanism in the agreement and labor protections for American workers therein were insufficient; her objections were in turn criticized by Obama.
Saying "despite the progress we've made since 2008, the biggest banks continue to threaten our economy", in July 2015 Warren, along with John McCain (R-AZ), Maria Cantwell (D-WA), and Angus King (I-ME) reintroduced the 21st Century Glass-Steagall Act, a modern version of the Banking Act of 1933. The legislation was intended to reduce the American taxpayer's risk in the financial system and decrease the likelihood of future financial crises.
In December 2016, Warren gained a seat on the Senate Armed Services Committee, which The Boston Globe called "a high-profile perch on one of the chamber's most powerful committees" that would "fuel speculation about a possible 2020 bid for president".
During the debate on Senator Jeff Sessions's nomination for United States attorney general in February 2017, Warren quoted a letter Coretta Scott King had written to Senator Strom Thurmond in 1986 when Sessions was nominated for a federal judgeship. King wrote, "Mr. Sessions has used the awesome power of his office to chill the free exercise of the vote by black citizens in the district he now seeks to serve as a federal judge. This simply cannot be allowed to happen." Senate Republicans voted that by reading the letter from King, Warren had violated Senate Rule 19, which prohibits impugning another senator's character. This prohibited Warren from further participating in the debate on Sessions's nomination, and Warren instead read King's letter while streaming live online. In rebuking Warren, Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell said on the Senate floor, "She was warned. She was given an explanation. Nevertheless, she persisted." McConnell's language became a slogan for Warren and others.
On October 3, 2017, during Wells Fargo chief executive Timothy J. Sloan's appearance before the Senate Banking Committee, Warren called on him to resign, saying, "At best you were incompetent, at worst you were complicit."
On July 17, 2019, Warren and Rep. AI Lawson introduced legislation that would make low-income college students eligible for benefits under the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) according to the College Student Hunger Act of 2019.
In the run-up to the 2016 U.S. presidential election, supporters put Warren forward as a possible presidential candidate, but she repeatedly said she would not run for president in 2016. In October 2013, she joined the other 15 female Democratic senators in signing a letter that encouraged Hillary Clinton to run. There was much speculation about Warren being added to the Democratic ticket as a vice-presidential candidate. On June 9, 2016, after the California Democratic primary, Warren formally endorsed Clinton for president. In response to questions when she endorsed Clinton, Warren said that she believed herself to be ready to be vice president, but she was not being vetted. On July 7, CNN reported that Warren was on a five-person short list to be Clinton's running mate. Clinton eventually chose Tim Kaine.
Until her June endorsement, Warren was neutral during the Democratic primary but made public statements that she was cheering Bernie Sanders on. In June, Warren endorsed and campaigned for Clinton before Sanders endorsed Clinton. She called Donald Trump, the presumptive Republican nominee, dishonest, uncaring, and "a loser".
On February 9, 2019, Warren officially announced her candidacy at a rally in Lawrence, Massachusetts, at the site of the 1912 Bread and Roses strike. A longtime critic of President Trump, Warren called him a "symptom of a larger problem [that has resulted in] a rigged system that props up the rich and powerful and kicks dirt on everyone else".
Warren staged her first campaign event in Lawrence to demonstrate the constituency groups she hopes to appeal to, including working class families, union members, women, and new immigrants. She called for major changes in government:
It won't be enough to just undo the terrible acts of this administration. We can't afford to just tinker around the edges--a tax credit here, a regulation there. Our fight is for big, structural change. This is the fight of our lives. The fight to build an America where dreams are possible, an America that works for everyone.
Following her candidacy announcement, Warren released several policy proposals, including plans to assist family farms by addressing the advantages held by large agricultural conglomerates, plans to reduce student loan debt and offer free tuition at public colleges, a plan to make large corporations pay more in taxes and better regulate large technology companies, and plans to address opioid addiction. She has introduced an "Economic Patriotism" plan intended to create opportunities for American workers, and proposals inspired by opposition to President Trump, including one that would make it permissible to indict a sitting president.
One of her signature plans was a wealth tax, dubbed the "Ultra-Millionaire Tax," on fortunes over $50,000,000. Warren was credited with popularizing the idea of a wealth tax with Americans, leading competitor Bernie Sanders to release a wealth tax plan.
Warren became known for the number and depth of her policy proposals. On her campaign website, she detailed more than 45 plans for topics including health care, universal child care, ending the opioid crisis, clean energy, climate change, foreign policy, reducing corporate influence at the Pentagon, and ending "Wall Street's stranglehold on the economy".
In early June 2019, Warren placed second in some polls, with Joe Biden in first place and Bernie Sanders in third. In the following weeks her poll numbers steadily increased, and a September Iowa poll placed her in the lead with 22% to Biden's 20%. The Iowa poll also rated the number of voters at least considering voting for each candidate; Warren scored 71% to Biden's 60%. Poll respondents also gave her a higher "enthusiasm" rating, with 32% of her backers extremely enthusiastic to Biden's 22%.
An October 24 Quinnipiac poll placed Warren in the lead at 28%, with Biden at 21% and Sanders at 15%. When asked which candidate had the best policy ideas, 30% of respondents named Warren, with Sanders at 20% and Biden 15%. Sanders was most often named as the candidate who "cares most about people like you," with Warren in second place and Biden third. Sanders also placed first at 28% when respondents were asked which candidate was the most honest, followed by Warren and Biden at 15% each.
The Los Angeles Times reported that of the front-runners in the presidential race, only Sanders and Warren have previously won an election with almost exclusively small online contributions, and that no presidential primary in recent history has had two of the top three candidates refuse to use bundlers or hold private fundraisers with wealthy donors.
In January 2019, Warren said that she took no PAC money. In October 2019, Warren announced that her campaign would not accept contributions of more than $200 from executives at banks, large tech companies, private equity firms, or hedge funds, in addition to her previous refusal to accept donations of over $200 from fossil fuel or pharmaceutical executives.
In the third quarter of 2019 Warren's campaign raised $24.6 million, just less than the $25.3 million Sanders's campaign raised and well ahead of Joe Biden, the front-runner in the polls, who raised $15.2 million. Warren's average donation was $26; Sanders's was $18.
In February 2020, Warren began accepting support from Super PACs, after failing to convince other Democratic presidential candidates to join her in disavowing them.
As of September 2019, Warren had attended 128 town halls. She is known for remaining afterward to talk with audience members and for the large numbers of selfies she has taken with them. On September 17, over 20,000 people attended a Warren rally at New York City's Washington Square Park. After her speech long lines formed with people waiting as long as four hours for selfies.
Warren supports worker representation on corporations' board of directors, breaking up monopolies, stiffening sentences for white-collar crime, a Medicare-for-all plan to provide health insurance for all Americans, and a higher minimum wage.
In January 2019, Warren criticized Trump's decision to withdraw U.S. troops from Syria and Afghanistan. She agreed that U.S. troops should be withdrawn from Syria and Afghanistan but said such withdrawals should be part of a "coordinated" plan formed with U.S. allies. In April 2019, after reading the Mueller Report, Warren called on the House of Representatives to begin impeachment proceedings against Trump, saying, "The Mueller report lays out facts showing that a hostile foreign government attacked our 2016 election to help Donald Trump and Donald Trump welcomed that help. Once elected, Donald Trump obstructed the investigation into that attack."
Ancestry and Native American relations
According to Warren and her brothers, older family members told them during their childhood that they had Native American ancestry. In 2012, she said that "being Native American has been part of my story, I guess, since the day I was born". In 1984, Warren contributed recipes to a Native American cookbook and identified herself as Cherokee.The Washington Post reported that in 1986, Warren identified her race as "American Indian" on a State Bar of Texas write-in form used for statistical information gathering, but added that there was "no indication it was used for professional advancement". A comprehensive Boston Globe investigation concluded that her reported ethnicity played no role in her rise in the academic legal profession. In February 2019, Warren apologized for having identified as Native American.
During Warren's first Senate race in 2012, her opponent, Scott Brown, speculated that she had fabricated Native ancestry to gain advantage on the employment market and used Warren's ancestry in several attack ads. Warren has denied that her heritage gave her any advantages in her schooling or her career. Several colleagues and employers (including Harvard) have said her reported ethnic status played no role in her hiring. From 1995 to 2004, her employer, Harvard Law School, listed her as a Native American in its federal affirmative action forms; Warren later said she was unaware of this. A 2018 Boston Globe investigation found "clear evidence, in documents and interviews, that her claim to Native American ethnicity was never considered by the Harvard Law faculty, which voted resoundingly to hire her, or by those who hired her to four prior positions at other law schools" and that "Warren was viewed as a white woman by the hiring committees at every institution that employed her".
President Donald Trump has "persistently mocked" Warren for her assertions of Native American ancestry. At a July 2018 Montana rally, Trump promised that if he debated Warren, he would offer to pay $1 million to her favorite charity if she could prove her Native American ancestry via a DNA test. Warren released results of a DNA test in October 2018, then asked Trump to donate the money to the National Indigenous Women's Resource Center. Trump responded by denying that he had made the challenge. The DNA test found that Warren's ancestry is mostly European but "strongly support[ed] the existence of an unadmixed Native American ancestor", likely "in the range of 6 to 10 generations ago." The Cherokee Nation criticized the use of DNA testing to determine Native American heritage as "inappropriate and wrong". According to Politico, "Warren's past claims of American Indian ancestry garnered fierce criticism from both sides of the aisle, with President Donald Trump labeling her with a slur, "Pocahontas", and tribal leaders calling out Warren for claiming a heritage she did not culturally belong to."
During a January 2019 public appearance in Sioux City, Iowa, Warren was asked by an attendee, "Why did you undergo the DNA testing and give Donald more fodder to be a bully?" Warren responded in part, "I am not a person of color; I am not a citizen of a tribe. Tribal citizenship is very different from ancestry. Tribes, and only tribes, determine tribal citizenship, and I respect that difference." She later reached out to leadership of the Cherokee Nation to apologize "for furthering confusion over issues of tribal sovereignty and citizenship and for any harm her announcement caused". Cherokee Nation executive director of communications Julie Hubbard said that Warren understands "that being a Cherokee Nation tribal citizen is rooted in centuries of culture and laws not through DNA tests." Warren apologized again in August 2019 before the Native American Forum in Iowa.
In mid-February 2019, Warren received a standing ovation during a surprise visit to a Native American conference, where she was introduced by freshman representative Deb Haaland (D-NM), one of the first two Native American women elected to the U.S. Congress. Haaland endorsed Warren for president in July 2019, calling her "a great partner for Indian Country".
In 2018, the Women's History Month theme in the United States was "Nevertheless, She Persisted: Honoring Women Who Fight All Forms of Discrimination against Women", referring to McConnell's remark about Warren.
In an article in The New York Times, Jeff Madrick said of the book:
The authors find that it is not the free-spending young or the incapacitated elderly who are declaring bankruptcy so much as families with children ... their main thesis is undeniable. Typical families often cannot afford the high-quality education, health care, and neighborhoods required to be middle class today. More clearly than anyone else, I think, Ms. Warren and Ms. Tyagi have shown how little attention the nation and our government have paid to the way Americans really live.
In 2005, Warren and David Himmelstein published a study on bankruptcy and medical bills that found that half of all families filing for bankruptcy did so in the aftermath of a serious medical problem. They say that three-quarters of such families had medical insurance. The study was widely cited in policy debates, but some have challenged its methods and offered alternative interpretations of the data, suggesting that only 17% of bankruptcies are directly attributable to medical expenses.
Metropolitan Books published Warren's book A Fighting Chance in April 2014. According to a Boston Globe review, "the book's title refers to a time she says is now gone, when even families of modest means who worked hard and played by the rules had at a fair shot at the American dream."
^Killough, Ashley; Liptak, Kevin (May 8, 2012). "Brown continues offense on Warren over Native American claims". cnn.com. CNN. Archived from the original on October 8, 2019. Retrieved 2019. The New England Historic Genealogical Society provided CNN with initial research last week, showing several members of Warren's maternal family claiming Cherokee heritage. The Native American link extends to Warren's great-great-great grandmother O.C. Sarah Smith, who is said to be described as Cherokee in an 1894 marriage license application.
^Madison, Lucy (May 3, 2012). "Warren explains minority listing, talks of grandfather's 'high cheekbones'". CBS News. Archived from the original on October 18, 2018. Retrieved 2018. And my Aunt Bea has walked by that picture at least a 1,000 times - remarked that he - that her father, my Papaw - had high cheek bones - 'like all of the Indians do'. Because that's how she saw it and she said 'and your mother got those same great cheek bones and I didn't'. She thought that was the bad deal she had gotten in life. Being Native American has been part of my story, I guess, since the day I was born
^Seelye, Katharine Q.; Goodnough, Abby (April 30, 2012). "Candidate for Senate Defends Past Hiring". The New York Times. Archived from the original on February 23, 2015. Retrieved 2015. officials involved in her hiring at Harvard, the University of Pennsylvania, the University of Texas and the University of Houston Law Center all said that she was hired because she was an outstanding teacher, and that her lineage was either not discussed or not a factor
^Tarlo, Shira (December 7, 2018). "Elizabeth Warren receives standing ovation at surprise visit to Native American conference: report". Salon. Archived from the original on February 22, 2019. Retrieved 2019. Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) received a standing ovation when she made a surprise appearance Tuesday at a Native American conference ... Warren apologized to the Cherokee Nation earlier this month for releasing a DNA test in an attempt to prove it. It was most recently revealed that Warren listed her race as "American Indian" when she filled out form for the Texas state bar in 1986.
^Lee, MJ (February 12, 2019). "Elizabeth Warren makes unannounced appearance at Native American luncheon in Washington". CNN. Archived from the original on February 25, 2019. Retrieved 2019. the Washington Post reported that Warren had listed her race as 'American Indian' on a State Bar of Texas registration card in 1986. It marked the first time the claim had been documented in Warren's own handwriting, reignited a debate that had begun quiet down, and prompted yet another apology. 'As Senator Warren has said she is not a citizen of any tribe and only tribes determine tribal citizenship', Kristen Orthman, Warren's spokeswoman, said in a statement. 'She is sorry that she was not more mindful of this earlier in her career.'