Why Elizabeth Warren Isn’t the Most Liberal Senator

She broke with her party over a key element of Obamacare, and opposed the estate tax. Plus, she has many very liberal colleagues.

Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) speaks during a briefing on a Securities and Exchange Commission proposed rule October 30, 2013 on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC.
National Journal
Peter Bell
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Peter Bell
Feb. 6, 2014, 7:13 a.m.

Ten years ago, Na­tion­al Journ­als 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

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