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Elizabeth Warren’s strategic partnership with House Democrats

Warren knows three of her biggest ideas have no chance in the Senate. So she’s introducing them in the House.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), left, and Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) attend a ceremony at the US Capitol in 2017.
Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call

Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) is pushing three big ideas — cracking down hard on DC lobbying, giving workers more of a say in how corporations operate, and creating 3 million new affordable housing units — and now she has found partners for all of them among key House Democrats.

This week, Warren and House Democratic members introduced two of her sweeping bills in the House — the Accountable Capitalism Act, and the American Housing and Economic Mobility Act — to complement ones she has already introduced in the Senate. Her third bill, a broad anti-corruption bill called the Anti-Corruption and Public Integrity Act, was introduced in the House a few weeks ago.

To be clear, these are largely statement bills, since they have no chance of passing in the Republican-controlled Senate, or being signed by President Donald Trump. But importantly, Warren is finding allies for her ideas in the House, where Democrats will finally be in power. She’s laying the groundwork for action on these ideas down the road.

“Getting this bill introduced and voted on in the House changes the dynamic in the Senate, because it becomes real at that point, and now the Senate is really called on to step up and say, ‘Where do you stand?’” Warren said at a Tuesday press conference on the companion bill on affordable housing.

Warren is choosing her partners in the House strategically, getting a mix of moderate and progressive House Democrats to introduce and co-sponsor her bills. At least two of these Democrats will be in House leadership next year, giving the legislation an important boost.

The move serves another purpose, too. As Warren is gearing up for a potential 2020 run, she’s showing she can build coalitions with multiple factions of the Democratic Party, not just among the progressive wing where she is strongest.

Warren is building strategic alliances in the House

The roster of House Democrats Warren has built to introduce companion legislation for her bills isn’t just a slate of staunch progressives. They are Democrats who run the gamut from progressive to moderate, but they are all influential in their own right.

A few Democrats signing on to the Warren bills will be in House leadership next year, including incoming Assistant Democratic Leader Ben Ray Lujan (D-NM) and Co-Chair of the Steering and Policy Committee Barbara Lee (D-CA). In other words, her ideas will have advocates in important House positions.

Here’s a quick breakdown of who is introducing Warren’s bills in the House, why they matter, and what’s in each bill:

Anti-Corruption and Public Integrity Act: introduced by Reps. John Sarbanes (D-MD) and Pramila Jayapal (D-WA) in the House. Sarbanes is spearheading the comprehensive anti-corruption legislation that is House Democrats’ first bill of the year, so he’s an obvious ally on Warren’s anti-corruption bill. Japayal is the co-chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus and a progressive leader in the House, who has also make anti-corruption a priority.

Warren’s bill includes a lifetime ban on lobbying for presidents, vice presidents, members of Congress, federal judges, and Cabinet secretaries, requires presidential and vice presidential candidates to release tax returns and put their assets in blind trusts, cuts down on corporate influence in federal rule-making, and much more.

American Housing and Economic Mobility Act: introduced by Rep. Cedric Richmond (D-LA), the chair of the Congressional Black Caucus. Warren’s housing bill also has important co-sponsors including Reps. Elijah Cummings (D-MD), likely the incoming chair of the House Oversight Committee, Rep. Barbara Lee (D-CA), who is a co-chair of the all-important Steering and Policy Committee, and Rep. Gwen Moore (D-WI), a longtime affordable housing champion who sits on the House Financial Services Committee — the committee that will have jurisdiction over the bill.

Warren’s affordable housing bill would dramatically increase the federal government’s investment into affordable housing — $450 billion over 10 years. That would help build or refurbish 3 million affordable housing units, and create 1.5 million new jobs, according to an independent Moody’s analysis. Warren, Richmond, and advocates say the bill will bring down rising housing and rental costs, which they say have reached crisis levels in the US.

Accountable Capitalism Act: will be introduced by Rep. Ben Ray Lujan (D-NM), the new Assistant Democratic Leader, the No. 4 position among House Democrats in 2019. The bill will be being co-sponsored by Rep. Mark Pocan (D-WI), the co-chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, and Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-IL), a longtime progressive. In addition, moderate Democrats Reps. Stephen Lynch (D-MA) and Brendan Boyle (D-PA) have also signed on as cosponsors.

As Vox’s Matt Yglesias outlined, the Accountable Capitalism Act would essentially redistribute the balance of power from corporate shareholders to workers in the corporations. It would do this by requiring corporations to let their workers elect 40 percent of the members of the corporation’s board of directors. It would also give shareholders and worker-elected board members the ability to have more oversight into corporations political donations.

Warren is going for a sweeping vision, not incremental change

All three of Warren’s bills show the senator favors bold ideas over incremental change. A staff member told Vox that’s by design; rather than being reactionary, they are trying to get to the root of the problem and fix it there.

“The problems we’re trying to solve with each of these bills are enormous. It’s about trying to find solutions that are up to the scale of the problem,” a Warren staffer said.

At the unveiling of her anti-corruption bill a few months ago, Warren admitted that her bill wasn’t likely to endear her to some of her Democratic colleagues, never mind Republicans.

Taken altogether, Accountable Capitalism Act, Anti-Corruption and Public Integrity Act, and American Housing and Economic Mobility Act represent Warren’s core issues. She’s been hammering them since she was a Harvard Law School professor who helped establish the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau after the 2008 financial crisis, which was driven by predatory lending in the housing market.

Warren has plenty of big ideas to reform the current system. But in lieu of her potential presidential run in 2020, the Democratic House is the best chance (albeit still slim) her bills have to advance.

Correction: An earlier version of this article said Assistant Democratic Leader Ben Ray Luján was the incoming no. 5 Democrat. He will be the fourth-ranked Democrat in the next Congress.