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A liberal who raises tons of money: What Elizabeth Warren could do as Biden’s VP pick

Former Vice President Joe Biden (L) and Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren arrive on stage for a Democratic primary debate in Westerville, Ohio on October 15, 2019.

Saul Loeb | AFP | Getty Images

Sen. Elizabeth Warren has said she would agree to become Joe Biden’s running mate if he asks her to join him on the Democratic ticket for November’s election. 

Warren, who turns 71 on Monday, may well end up there, taking on President Donald Trump and Vice President Mike Pence, as she has emerged as a leader on Biden’s short list.

In the buildup to Biden’s choice, expected by early August, and during the crises stemming from the coronavirus and racial injustice, Warren has been a leading voice for the progressive wing of the Democratic Party. She recently found a middle ground with some of her Republican colleagues in agreeing that Confederate names and statues on military bases should be taken down. 

While she was not available for an interview, CNBC spoke with people who are among those who know Warren best: members of her progressive grassroots army that were by her side throughout her recent run for president and have been publicly advocating for her to become Biden’s vice president ever since her endorsement in April. They believe that Warren, who is known as a detailed planner and policy wonk, would be an important progressive voice for Biden on key issues ranging from the economy to health care. 

Warren’s fundraising prowess might also give her an edge in the VP vetting process. A recent fundraiser for Biden and the Democratic National Committee that featured Warren raised $6 million as the virtual event lured both small- and large-dollar donors. That total was more than those raised by Biden events featuring 2016 Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton and Sen. Kamala Harris, who is also in the VP running.

Travis Akers, a veteran intelligence officer and a Warren supporter, told CNBC there was an organized effort for people to give $2 to $50 if they could not attend. He believes, based on the reaction he and other Warren supporters received through social media, that the small-dollar movement alone may have raised $1 million to $2 million of that total.

Biden and his team are reportedly considering Warren and other women for a running mate. Other leading contenders reportedly include Harris, former Obama national security advisor Susan Rice, Rep. Val Demings and Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms. 

Warren has consistently led in recent polling that shows most Democrats prefer her to get the job. A CBS News survey shows Warren ahead of all the other contenders, with 71% of participants saying she should be considered for the spot. Thirty-six percent said she should be the pick, ahead of Harris and the other candidates.  

The potential for a Warren vice presidential candidacy has received pushback, though, from some wealthy donors, particularly those on Wall Street who are vehemently against some of her economic policies. 

A spokesman for Biden did not return a request for comment for this story. 

Coronavirus and civil unrest

The Massachusetts lawmaker has often been a vocal advocate for progressive policies such as raising taxes on the wealthy, “Medicare for All” and increased social and economic equality. 

Her values have given her an opportunity to stand above other possible VP choices. She is at the forefront among Democrats arguing that a strong government is the solution to crises such as the coronavirus pandemic and the resulting national unrest following the police killing of George Floyd. 

“I think the pandemic has played much into the talents that Elizabeth has in being able to make government work for people,” said Charles Chamberlain, chair of a progressive political action committee, Democracy for America. He pointed to Warren’s plan to fight the coronavirus, which was published earlier this year, as how she could respond to the pandemic if she were vice president. 

“If we hope to control this outbreak, the Administration must immediately allocate funds from the recent emergency supplemental appropriation to state and local health departments and hospitals to rapidly stand up testing capacity nationwide,” Warren wrote. One of Warren’s brothers died from Covid-19.

“Considering that she made health care a centerpiece of her campaign, I can’t see a better candidate in terms of our pandemic response as it moves forward into 2021,” said Chamberlain, a longtime supporter of Warren. 

Warren has also spoken out on the economic impact the virus has had on the Black community. Economic data from the month of May shows that White unemployment fell to 12.4% from just over 14% a month earlier, while Black unemployment rose to 16.8% from 16.7%.

Since Floyd was killed, Warren has joined calls for the removal of Confederate names and monuments from military bases. The Republican led Senate Armed Services Committee recently approved the proposal. 

That overall effort to speak out on racial inequality, her supporters say, should be one of the reasons Biden chooses her to be vice president as it could, in their view, put her in a position to be one of the presumptive nominees most vocal weapons against Trump. 

“She has shown bravery and action since George Floyd’s murder and has shown that she will not only call Donald Trump a white supremacist, but take him on rhetorically in a more aggressive way than Joe Biden perhaps can or will,” said Jason Overstreet, an author and staunch Warren supporter. 

A spokesman for the Trump campaign did not return a request for comment. 

Shifting Biden to the left 

Progressives also think Warren could push Biden more to the left on a wide range of issues. 

Harvard Law professor Laurence Tribe, who is urging Warren’s selection on the ticket, told CNBC that while he believes Biden’s instincts are progressive, the Massachusetts lawmaker could counsel him on some liberal policies.

“While [Biden] has deep convictions he’s also a good and serious listener, so there’s every reason to think that he’d be open to persuasion by Warren on any of a number of economic issues — especially those affecting the lives of ordinary consumers and creditors, students and others, who have been squeezed mercilessly by the structure of our tax and bankruptcy laws and the maldistribution of wealth and the political power it currently wields throughout the system,” Tribe said in an email. 

Warren has been a leading advocate of a wealth tax on the richest Americans. Her supporters say these types of economic policies mark an area where Biden, after endorsing Warren’s plan to reform consumer bankruptcy laws, could shift left. 

The economy is one of the two areas Ramarion Sallee, a small-dollar donor to Warren’s presidential campaign and a self-described Warren Democrat, says he thinks Biden should be “more ambitious progressively.” The other is Medicare for All, something Biden has said he would veto if he became president. 

Another policy Warren supporters hope to see Biden shift even more to the left on is the idea of free admission into public colleges or universities. While Biden supports free tuition for families making up to $125,000, some Warren backers think she could help him become more progressive on the issue. 

“I could see Warren pushing him further on this issue as well. Warren really fights for young people. There is a real passion there,” Overstreet said. 

What if Biden doesn’t pick Warren?

While it doesn’t seem as if Warren supporters would sit out the election if she is not picked by Biden, there might be a sense of disappointment and a lack of enthusiasm for the election. That could lead to a drop in participation in get-out-the-vote efforts and small-dollar fundraising. 

“A short-term concern of Warren supporters is about a lack of motivation in November. Young voters went for Sen. [Bernie] Sanders and Sen. Warren,” Sallee said. 

Overstreet said he is somewhat worried by social media posts indicating that some younger progressives may not vote. 

“It would not surprise me if some of them sit out if they feel like it’s business as usual and a moderate VP who simply echoes Biden on policy is chosen,” Overstreet said. 

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