Ten years ago, National Journal's vote ratings showed John Kerry to be the Senate's most liberal member. Some called the rating unfair, but conservatives were gleeful that someone else had so labeled the Democratic nominee for president. President Bush even mentioned Kerry's rating during their second 2004 presidential debate, describing it as "the award he won from the National Journal."
This year, the vote ratings of another Massachusetts Democrat are eye-catching, but for the opposite reason. Elizabeth Warren, the newest liberal icon, is not the most liberal member of the Senate, according to this year's National Journal vote ratings. Warren's composite liberal score of 73.2 places her as the 31st-most-liberal senator. How could that be?
For starters, she broke with President Obama on a very significant piece of legislation, voting to repeal Obamacare's medical-device tax—a core element to the funding of the Affordable Care Act. Many manufacturers are based in Massachusetts, so this is an instance of her voting her constituency over her party. She didn't stop there, joining with many Republicans to "repeal or reduce the estate tax" if done in a fiscally responsible way. Warren even irked consumer advocates by opposing a measure that would have allowed states to mandate labeling of foods that contain genetically modified ingredients. Those differences gave her a liberal percentile score of 75 on economic policy.
Another reason that Warren didn't stand out is that many of her lesser-known colleagues are also very liberal—part of the very polarization that we write about in this week's National Journal cover story. By taking one small vote against her leadership, her ranking drops considerably because so many Senate Democrats have held a liberal line.
On foreign policy, Warren received a liberal percentile score of 54. In that area, Warren took the conservative position on just one vote, voting with almost every Senate Republican against an amendment to limit the legal rights of Guantanamo detainees brought to the United States (vote number 238). How could Warren get such a moderate score when she voted with Republicans just once? Answer: When Senators vote in lockstep, small differences in voting records can have a large impact on percentile scores. And with nearly 30 senators racking up perfect liberal voting records on foreign policy, the highest liberal percentile score any of them received was a 71.
On social issues, Warren lived up to her reputation, tying with 26 other Democratic senators as the most liberal. Warren and well-known liberals such as Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., and Tammy Baldwin, D-Wis., all received a score of 73—the most liberal score any senator got in that category.
Josh Kraushaar contributed