How Hillary Clinton Once Disappointed Elizabeth Warren on Wall Street Reform

As a senator, Clinton doubled back on the advice Warren once gave her.

National Journal
Emma Roller
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Emma Roller
Sept. 5, 2014, 9:48 a.m.

On Fri­day, the Bill Moy­ers show re­leased a vin­tage clip of Sen. Eliza­beth War­ren ap­pear­ing on the show in 2004. In the video, War­ren talks about a pres­ci­ent meet­ing with then-first lady Hil­lary Clin­ton.

War­ren tells the story like this: In the late 1990s, Con­gress was set to pass a bill that would make it harder for cus­tom­ers to al­le­vi­ate their debt by claim­ing bank­ruptcy. Banks and cred­it card com­pan­ies were push­ing the bill hard.

War­ren wrote an op-ed op­pos­ing the le­gis­la­tion, ar­guing the bill would dis­pro­por­tion­ately hurt single moth­ers. The first lady ap­par­ently read the piece, be­cause War­ren got a call from the White House ask­ing if she’d meet with Clin­ton to dis­cuss bank­ruptcy.

After Clin­ton gave a speech in Bo­ston, War­ren met with her. Over ham­burgers and french fries, Clin­ton said to War­ren, “Tell me about bank­ruptcy.”

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“I gotta tell you, I nev­er had a smarter stu­dent,” War­ren told Moy­ers, say­ing Clin­ton un­der­stood the prin­ciples of bank­ruptcy “quick right to the heart of it.”

After their con­ver­sa­tion, Clin­ton got up and said, “Pro­fess­or War­ren, we’ve got to stop that aw­ful bill.” And stop the bill they did. The bank­ruptcy bill was the last one to cross Pres­id­ent Bill Clin­ton’s desk, and he ve­toed it. On the cam­paign trail in 2007, Hil­lary Clin­ton used the bill as evid­ence that she “fought the banks.”

But when Clin­ton joined the Sen­ate in 2001 and the bank­ruptcy bill came up again, Clin­ton the sen­at­or did what Clin­ton the first lady op­posed — she voted for it.

“As Sen­at­or Clin­ton, the pres­sures are very dif­fer­ent,” War­ren told Moy­ers. “She has taken money from the groups, and more to the point, she wor­ries about them as a con­stitu­ency.”

As War­ren sees it, the “stu­dent” she saw in that meet­ing over bur­gers and fries ul­ti­mately fell vic­tim to a cor­rupt sys­tem. In Clin­ton-as-ideo­logue, War­ren saw an abil­ity to res­ist the lure of Wall Street. But Clin­ton the law­maker could not res­ist its in­flu­ence. “This is the scary part about demo­cracy today,” War­ren said.

War­ren’s com­ments from 10 years ago align with her po­s­i­tion on Wall Street today. In an in­ter­view with Katie Cour­ic on Wed­nes­day, War­ren took former House Ma­jor­ity Lead­er Eric Can­tor to task for tak­ing a well-pay­ing gig at an in­vest­ment bank. When Cour­ic asked War­ren what she thought about Clin­ton’s “cozy” re­la­tion­ship with Wall Street, War­ren de­murred — but did not go so far as to de­fend Clin­ton’s track re­cord.

While some pun­dits may prof­fer a su­per­fi­cial “cat­fight” nar­rat­ive between War­ren and Clin­ton, there is a more sub­stant­ive ideo­lo­gic­al gulf between them. And even though Clin­ton’s re­versal came all those years ago, it’s a linger­ing con­trast neither of them can avoid.

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