Liberal groups are ready to make a last stand against President Obama’s trade agenda in the Senate with Elizabeth Warren, on of their strongest allies on the issue.
The Senate is scheduled to take a key procedural vote on fast-track legislation on Tuesday that if successful could pave the way for the measure to reach the White House.While the trade war has waged this month in the House, Sen. Warren (D-Mass.) has taken a less public view. She’s been a key player in the background, but publicly has been more outspoken on other issues.
Now that the fight is returning to her home turf, her allies say she has an opportunity to take a final stand on the issue. They also argue she has a unique power to galvanize the Democratic base to their cause.
“Being on the same side of the issue and in the same chamber as Sen. Warren is something that excites and inspires our members, without question,” said Justin Krebs, campaign director for MoveOn.org.
Warren drew headlines as the Senate considered the trade package, going multiple rounds with Obama and trading jabs in interviews and public forums.
Once the Senate approved fast-track, Reps. Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.) and Sandy Levin (D-Mich.) took center stage as Warren focused her energy elsewhere.
In the last few weeks, she’s laid out a major proposal to make college more affordable. She also sparred with JPMorgan Chase CEO Jamie Dimon, who accused her of not understanding the global banking system.
At the same time, she continued hammering on the issue away from the Capitol, highlighting her concerns to supporters through emails and social media.
Yet while Warren has been quieter in public on trade, she’s kept close to the action.
Throughout the House fight, aides say trade critics in both chambers were staying regularly in touch, both at the member and staff level.
Members and staff regularly strategized, said one aide, as they worked out the best possible way to hold up the trade bills.
“It was like-minded individuals, figuring out how best to hold back a piece of legislation that we all think will harm workers,” said one House Democratic aide.
In March, Warren huddled with House Democrats to discuss the dispute settlement system in a trans-Pacific trade deal that Obama is negotiating that critics argue would allow corporations to challenge trade laws outside the traditional court system.
The meetings had some comparing Warren to Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), who has often met with like-minded House conservatives on legislative issues.
Two days before House Democrats delivered a serious blow to fast-track by voting down another trade measure linked to the package, Warren held a call with liberal advocates, urging them to double down on their efforts to get Democrats to oppose the bills.
On the call, hosted by MoveOn.org and Democracy for America, Warren urged the grassroots to hold firm.
"Even when the odds are against you, sometimes you need to stand up and fight," Warren said. "Never give up on holding Wall Street accountable. I repeat — never."
Days later, Democrats rallied around a strategy that saw them vote down the workers assistance bill, which has traditionally been supported by Democrats. Their action stalled the fast-track bill, which was approved in a separate vote, because the House GOP’s floor procedure required both measures to be approved.
Obama and congressional Republicans have fired back by decoupling the two bills. They hope to earn a victory by convincing pro-trade Senate Democrats to back fast-track on Tuesday, with a promise to move the workers assistance program separately.
With the White House, GOP leaders and the business community all pushing for that outcome, the fast-track bill’s opponents may be the underdogs.
But they hope to kick their fight into overdrive, and believe Warren, along with Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), could help them stall the trade package — or even kill it.
“If we’re going to go into a major fight on this, the grassroots is exceptionally happy to be going into it with champions like Sens. Warren, Brown and Sanders,” said Sroka.