Hillary Clinton, Privately, Seeks the Favor of Elizabeth Warren
By Maggie Haberman and Jonathan Martin
Hillary Rodham Clinton held a private meeting with Senator Elizabeth
Warren in December, seeking to cultivate the increasingly influential
senator and to grapple with issues raised by a restive Democratic left,
such as income inequality.
The two met at the Northwest Washington home of the Clintons, without
aides and at Mrs. Clinton’s invitation.
Mrs. Clinton solicited policy ideas and suggestions from Ms. Warren,
according to a Democrat briefed on the meeting, who called it “cordial
and productive.” Mrs. Clinton, who has been seeking advice from a range
of scholars, advocates and officials, did not ask Ms. Warren to consider
endorsing her likely presidential candidacy.
The conversation occurred at a moment when Ms. Warren’s clout had become
increasingly evident. After the November election, Senator Harry Reid,
the Democratic leader, appointed Ms. Warren, a Massachusetts freshman,
to a leadership role in the Senate; she led a high-profile effort to
strip a spending bill of rules sought by large banks; and a patchwork of
liberal groups began a movement to draft her into the presidential race.
Ms. Warren has repeatedly said she is not running for president, and she
has taken no steps that would indicate otherwise. Still, she is intent
on pushing a robust populist agenda, and her confidants have suggested
that she would use her Senate perch during the 2016 campaign to nudge
Mrs. Clinton to embrace causes like curtailing the power of large
The get-together highlighted an early challenge for Mrs. Clinton, who as
the Democrats’ leading contender for 2016 has all but cleared the field
for her party’s primary. She is intent on developing an economic
platform that can speak to her party’s populist wing and excite working
class voters without alienating allies in the business community.
That Mrs. Clinton reached out to Ms. Warren suggested that she was aware
of how much the debate over economic issues had shifted even during the
relatively short time she was away from domestic politics while serving
as secretary of state.
Mrs. Clinton was often criticized by the right as a doctrinaire liberal
during her husband’s presidency and, as a presidential candidate,
ultimately ran as more of an economic populist than Mr. Obama did. But
she is now seen by some on the left as insufficiently tough on Wall
Street. That perception, denounced by allies as unfair, has stuck, in
part, because of her husband’s policies and because of the lucrative
speaking fees she has collected from financial firms and private equity
groups since she left the State Department in early 2013.
Some of Mrs. Clinton’s supporters, frustrated by the attention and
adulation generated by Ms. Warren, noted Tuesday that the two actually
hold similar positions on a range of economic issues, though Ms.
Warren’s rhetoric has been more fiery. Mrs. Clinton, hoping to delay
formally starting her candidacy for as long as possible, has refrained
from detailed discussions of economic policy. In recent weeks, though,
she has become more vocal, using Twitter to offer support for the
Dodd-Frank financial overhaul, for instance.
The one-on-one meeting also represented a step toward relationship
building for two women who do not know each other well. And for Mrs.
Clinton, it was a signal that she would prefer Ms. Warren’s counsel
delivered in person, as a friendly insider, rather than on national
television or in opinion articles. It may also indicate that Mrs.
Clinton, who was criticized for running an extremely guarded campaign in
2008, has learned from her mistakes and will reach out more regularly.
Aides to Mrs. Clinton did not respond to requests for comment about the
meeting, and aides to Ms. Warren could not be reached.
The meeting in December fell two months after a more awkward encounter:
Mrs. Clinton and Ms. Warren crossed paths at a Massachusetts rally for
Martha Coakley, the Democratic nominee for governor there last year. At
that event, Mrs. Clinton repeatedly described Ms. Warren as a champion
against special interests and big banks; Ms. Warren, in turn, barely
acknowledged Mrs. Clinton, who was the featured guest.
Both Mrs. Clinton and her husband appeared eager to keep a close eye on
Ms. Warren; Bill Clinton has appeared sensitive to her oblique criticism
of his deregulation of financial institutions. Beyond policy
differences, the Clintons are anxious to demonstrate that they, like Ms.
Warren, appreciate the economic difficulties many Americans are facing.
The December meeting recalled another private session between Mrs.
Clinton and a Democratic upstart: In 2005, shortly after he was sworn in
to the Senate, Barack Obama paid a visit to Mrs. Clinton in her Senate
office. In that instance, though, it was Mr. Obama who was seeking counsel.