Elizabeth Warren didn’t run in the 2016 primaries and isn’t on the ballot in November, but she’s emerged as one of the most influential figures in Democratic Party politics. And an intriguing email sent by Hillary Clinton’s chief speechwriter to other senior campaign officials (then given, likely by Russian hackers seeking to help elect Donald Trump, to WikiLeaks) sheds light on what it is she wants from the likely next president of the United States: Not specific policy commitments, but a drastic change in personnel serving in key agencies.
The meeting, between Dan Schwerin from Team Clinton and Dan Geldon from Team Warren took place way back in January 2015, long before Bernie Sanders’s insurgency had become a major subject of concern inside Clintonland (emphasis added):
As follow up to HRC's meeting with Warren, I spent about an hour and twenty minutes this afternoon with Dan Geldon, a longtime advisor to the Senator. He was intently focused on personnel issues, laid out a detailed case against the Bob Rubin school of Democratic policy makers, was very critical of the Obama administration's choices, and explained at length the opposition to Antonio Weiss.
We then carefully went through a list of people they do like, which EW sent over to HRC earlier. We have already been in touch with a number of them and I asked if he would be comfortable introducing me to the others, to which he seemed reasonably amenable.
We spent less time on specific policies, because he seemed less interested in that. (Although he did express some flexibility on Glass-Steagall, said too big too fail is the bigger issue, and was open to our ideas on addressing through the tax code assuming it actually works.) He spoke repeatedly about the need to have in place people with ambition and urgency who recognize how much the middle class is hurting and are willing to challenge the financial industry.
Starting with her speech at the AFL this week, EW will be pushing back against the President's message that the economy is getting better and urging us not to get distracted by metrics like GDP and unemployment when so much else remains wrong. Over all, it was a polite and engaged but not exactly warm conversation. They seem wary — and pretty convinced that the Rubin folks have the inside track with us whether we realize it yet or not — but open to engagement and to be proven wrong. He mentioned that everyone will be watching carefully any leaks about who HRC is meeting and talking to.
We agreed to stay in touch and I'll follow up, including to ask for introductions to specific people he mentioned.
Other emails from later in the campaign show Clinton’s team was paying quite a bit of attention to Warren, feeling (reasonably) that keeping her neutral in the primary campaign against Bernie Sanders was critical to winning.
Sadly for those of us interested in economic policy gossip, there are no follow-ups to Schwerin’s note in the WikiLeaks archive. We never learn which people Warren recommended or what the Clinton team’s reaction to this information was.
Reporting I’ve been doing on likely Clinton transition issues confirms something this email teases. Right now, there’s a fair amount of public messaging from progressive groups about a desire to keep people from the Wall Street world out of government, but the real agenda is more ambitious than that. Warren and her allies broadly object to the entire Robert Rubin/Larry Summers coaching tree of Democratic Party economic policymaking and are “very critical of the Obama administration's choices” in this regard.
In other words, the mere fact that Sheryl Sandberg (who used to work for Summers in the Clinton administration) works at Facebook rather than Wall Street or that Lael Brainard (who worked under Rubin in the Clinton administration) has been in government and think tanks her whole career doesn’t mean they’d be regarded as good choices. The revolving door between Wall Street and government is a concern, but the real target is the whole network of people who’ve dominated Democratic Party economic policymaking for a generation.
Warren has been repeating the slogan “personnel is policy” at every opportunity for a while now, but Schwerin’s email shows how serious she is about this.