Senate Democrats aren’t ready for Elizabeth Warren.
The Massachusetts Democrat electrified some in the liberal grassroots when she became the first senator to enter the race to take on President Donald Trump. But her colleagues aren’t leaping to support her — or anyone else in the Senate, for that matter.
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Even Sen. Ed Markey isn’t ready to endorse his fellow Massachusetts Democrat, at least not yet.
“When she is moving forward, we’re going to be talking,” Markey said as he prepared for Warren’s swearing in to another term in the Senate. “I’ve just got to get today done.”
Warren’s hard-edged brand of progressive politics has annoyed some of her colleagues at times, but the lack of support from her caucus isn’t personal. With a wide open Democratic primary, including perhaps a half-dozen of Warren’s own colleagues set to join the race, there’s no sense in getting out ahead of anyone, according to a dozen Democratic senators from across the ideological spectrum.
So even as Sens. Cory Booker of New Jersey, Bernie Sanders of Vermont, Kirsten Gillibrand of New York, Kamala Harris of California, Warren and others eye the 2020 gantlet, they might move forward with little to no support from the national politicians who know them best.
“It’ll be awhile before some of that is sorted out. Whether that means there will be a consensus around one or two or whether it’s more diffuse or whether there’s no endorsements, it’s hard to tell,” said Sen. Bob Casey (D-Pa.), who is considering his own bid. “It’s still pretty early. But it moves fast.”
“We should let this process play out for some time and see how the voters respond,” said Sen. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.).
It’s a sharp contrast from the 2016 race. Hillary Clinton began receiving endorsements from Democratic senators years before she formally entered the presidential campaign, with 16 Senate Democratic women, including Warren, signing a letter in 2013 urging Clinton to run.
By the time the primary had started, Clinton had huge support among Senate Democrats. And even as Sanders caught fire with Democratic primary voters, only Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) endorsed him in the Senate. This time around, Merkley is considering a campaign of his own.
Many Democrats now say the lack of primary competition in 2016 was a mistake and that trying to anoint anyone to take on Trump could be a huge error for the party. While endorsements might not win primaries, they do help shape the field and could be a sign of strength used to scare off other competitors from running.
Warren said she isn’t interested in gaining endorsements from her colleagues anyway.
“I believe in grassroots campaigns. That’s what this is about,” she said. “This isn’t about Washington. This is about the rest of America.”
Still, Warren has done some work to increase her visibility on Capitol Hill. After years of shying away from impromptu interviews with reporters, she now engages on a daily basis and has continued to do so since announcing her presidential exploratory committee. She’s also a member of Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer’s (D-N.Y.) leadership team.
Some party elders are clearly fond of her: former Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid promoted her for vice president in 2016 and encouraged her to run for president in 2020.
Each of the high-profile Senate Democrats considering a run has some knock on them within the Democratic caucus. The gruff Sanders is a loner, Gillibrand is known for having sharp elbows, Harris went rogue during an immigration debate last year and Booker is sometimes seen as too eager for the limelight. Others like Casey and Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) began considering bids only after winning reelection.
But Warren’s feud with some of her colleagues over a bank deregulation measure last year was personal and could limit her appeal in the Senate.
She fundraised off centrist senators’ support for that bill and publicly lamented what happens “when some of our teammates don’t even show up for the fight.” Seventeen members of the caucus voted for the measure, though some lost reelection. Privately, senators and aides have said that Warren’s moves during that fight won’t be forgotten during the presidential race.
But publicly, they are diplomatic about the disagreement.
“I don’t know that it would get down to that level of granularity,” said Sen. Jon Tester (D-Mont.) of the banking feud. Tester supported the bill, which loosened rules under the Dodd-Frank law, and laughed heartily when asked when and if he will endorse Warren.
“She is who she is and she has an incredible number of people who love her. And she’s got some who don’t like her that much,” he added. “It’s way too early for me to say who I’ll be supporting.”
With so many Democratic senators mulling their own bids and others declining to boldly offer early endorsements, some have sought a safe haven with Joe Biden. The former vice president and senator recently won a surprise endorsement from Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) and also has the support of his two home state senators.
Biden is a safe pick for a senator hoping not to make enemies by picking one current colleague over another. And Delaware Democratic Sens. Chris Coons and Tom Carper say he’s stronger and more experienced than anyone else.
“If Donald Trump ends up being the Republican nominee, I think there are a lot of people who want Joe Biden to run for president. And I would be leading the parade,” Carper said.
Regardless of Biden’s popularity, Warren may end up prevailing on some Democrats to support her. She’s done the hard work of setting up the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and knocking off an incumbent Republican senator when the GOP wouldn’t let her lead it. She easily won reelection last year while aiding her more endangered colleagues at the same time.
Sen. Doug Jones (D-Ala.) said Warren is a “wonderful person” and Sen. Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.) said “she’s got some great ideas.” But it feels too early to them to endorse her presidential run.
“It’s going to be a long haul,” said Sen. Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii).
Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.) said she’s eager to bring the Democratic convention to her state in 2020 and introduce her colleagues to Wisconsin voters after being just awarded another term. But for now, it won’t be to back Warren — or anyone else.
“I want somebody who just ran for reelection in Wisconsin to serve a role in introducing the candidates for the Democratic nomination to all Wisconsinites,” she said. “I hope to do that from a neutral position in the early stages.”
Marianne Levine contributed to this report.